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Land Taxation: An Idea Whose Time Has Gone

Alan W. Evans

ERES from European Real Estate Society (ERES)

Abstract: The idea of tax on the value of land was put forward by Henry George in his book Progress and Poverty. Its influence was great. Political parties were formed on the basis of the ideas it put forward and pressure groups still exist to promote those ideas. But despite this quasi-religious belief in the efficacy of land value taxation it has never been widely adopted. Only two countries in western Europe have any kind of land tax, most have some form of tax on the value of the whole property. The reasons for this would seem to lie in problems of practicality and politics.As regards practicality one country which does whole heartedly apply land taxation is Taiwan. The problem there is that in Taipeh at least very little undeveloped land comes onto the market. Therefore in order to value the land on which a building sits, two valuations have to be carried out. First the value of the entire property has to be estimated. Second, the cost of construction of the building has to be estimated. Deducting one estimate from the other the valuer arrives at an estimate of the value of the underlying land. It is evident that the cost of the valuation is twice as great as if a tax were being levied on the value of the property and the result is less certain.In New Zealand municipalities can choose which form of land or property taxation to use to raise money. This problem of practicality is, one would expect, the main reason why none of the major cities use land taxation. Land taxes are used only in the rural areas, where, it is evident, there is land being sold on the market so that valuations can be made both easily and reliably.The political problem is that levying a tax on land might have been politically popular in the nineteenth century when most of the population rented their homes. A land tax would then have been a form of wealth tax - a tax borne by the rich. But in countries where most of the population now own their own homes a land tax is not going to be popular if it is levied at anything other than a low rate. But if it is levied at a low rate then it will not achieve the economic effects that its supporters believe that it could. Its time has passed.

JEL-codes: R3 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2013-01-01
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-acc, nep-agr, nep-his and nep-pbe
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