Tax the land

One radical idea to solve America’s housing crisis.

By Jerusalem Demsas @JerusalemDemsas  Mar 4, 2022, 10:10am EST on Vox

A parking lot in Brooklyn is surrounded by buildings in 2016. A large condominium building has since been built where the parking lot stood. | Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A six-word phrase keeps popping up on my Twitter feed: “Land value tax would solve this.”

In response to the inefficient use of land as parking lots. As a policy to help fund a universal basic income. And even (jokingly) as a prescription for the rise of virginity in young men.

The big question land value taxes help answer is: How can a government raise funds without distorting choices and possibly leaving people worse off? If you tax income, it provides a disincentive to work. If you tax property, it provides a disincentive to improve the physical buildings on top of the land. Sometimes the tax is intentionally disincentivizing an activity — think carbon taxes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or so-called “sin taxes” on tobacco. But there are also taxes governments want to levy to pay for valuable services without changing behaviors too much (or at all).

One of the most straightforward solutions a land tax offers is to America’s housing crisis. That crisis is caused, in part, by the failure to appropriately use valuable in-demand land for its best purpose. Millions of people want to live in New York City, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, or Seattle, but local tax regimes actually punish people for investing in their property. When people improve their property — either by adding a new room or building an entirely new structure like a multi-story apartment building, they’ll pay higher property taxes.

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2 Responses

  1. David Harold Chester says:

    Taxing the land is almost impossible to introduce because we already pay arnona which is partly based on the existing status of the site in question. Instead we need a new law by which the land (or its fraction in the case of blocks of appartments), is sold to the government. For all new land transactions to include the sale of the property but without the land value which simultaneously is sold to the government. This is instead of its purchase by the new land occupier. The new occupier of the buildings or site for use, then pays a lease fee instead of ground-rent, to the government and this is equivalent to a land value tax but is now not going to offend the previous land owner and the new owner (having got free access rights to the site),will recognize it as no worse than if he/she pays the ground rent.

  2. What is ‘arnona’?
    When you say the land is sold to the government, you mean tax payers (who pay taxes mostly as a penalty for producing) will be paying speculative prices for land and then who collects the land rent? If the government doesn’t collect the land value then someone else will. So why not skip the step of the government ”purchasing” the land and just collect the land rent?¿?¿

    If you mean for the new owner to pay the lease fee to the government as land rent, then you would have to wait until every piece of land changes hands before collecting the land rent. Just have the government collect the land rent now.

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