Nice comparison chart from Jo Jorgensen campaign (via reddit):
Of course she says nothing sensible about land rent and who’s entitled to collect it, but I’m gonna support her until I find a candidate who does.
A D Quig reports in Crains that the City of Chicago’s Housing Commissioner says “everyone who lives in Woodlawn now should be able to stay in Woodlawn.” This can be a challenge as housing costs in the area rise. According to Crains (not corroborated by any press release I can find on web sites of the Department of Housing or the Mayor’s Office), support for housing affordabiity in the area will involve six strategies:
Details, of course, are yet to be defined, and the whole thing requires action by the City Council. Still, assuming that the program is effectively structured and implemented, what we have is the designation of a privileged class– people who live in Woodlawn– receiving benefits that might otherwise accrue to another privileged class — people who own land in Woodlawn, with a new layer of bureaucracy established (or repurposed) to administer it, including investigating and monitoring the reported income and behavior of the people who are granted permission to live in the area.
Whereas, under a land value tax, the area would now have little vacant land, presumably a lot more housing, probably quite “affordable.”
Of course if you’re the Mayor, you do what you figure is politically feasible and within your power, not what is morally right and economically efficient, but would require persuading a lot of uninformed voters and obtaining cooperation from quite a few other governmental actors.
Wirepoints recently issued a helpful report showing state and local government pension debt per Chicago household. They estimate the burden at $144,000 per household. This is a big number, but one could suppose that a prosperous household, over decades, could bear such a burden. Some could, but probably not those below poverty level. Take them out of the picture and the per household amount rises to $172,000. Excluding households with incomes below $75,000, or below $200,000, and the per-household amount rises further, to $393,000 and $2,022,000 respectively.
Here’s their chart:
Of course this doesn’t consider land values, nor businesses. If prime Chicago land is worth $1,000/sq ft, that’s 5.38 sq miles. But more typical land value is much less, probably no more than $25/sq ft. (it seems that nobody has tried to estimate citywide values). That would be 112 square miles. Once we subtract land owned by governments, churches and other exempt nonprofits, we might be approaching the total value of all land in Chicago. And that’s just for pensions, not bonded debt, nor needed capital improvements. Real estate buyers know, or certainly should know, about these encumbrances.
Of course money can be raised from business taxes, but that’s hardly a way to grow economic opportunity for Chicagoans. I would consider any tax revenue from “gaming” as a kind of business tax.
The lesson Wirepoints draws from this is that pensions have to be downsized somehow, which required amending the state constitution. And they go further, comparing government salaries to those of the private sector:
So it looks like we’re going to have to confront a large number of people with guns and firehoses and control over our children, who have been getting a lot of money from us for years and may prefer not to moderate their demands.
Tho I don’t know how, this problem will be solved. Maybe MMT will yield a continuing stream of funds to bail us out. Maybe inflation will accelerate such that the fixed 3% compounded pension increase isn’t a burden. Maybe Chicagoans will decide that they just don’t want so many government “services.” Maybe politicians will decide to remove all taxes from productive economic activity, taxing only the value of land and other privileges (such as the private monopoly over street parking fees), which will grow the economy (while reducing the need for emergency services) sufficient to make pensions a non-issue.
And when it is solved, those who own land and other privileges will benefit most.
I don’t know that governments are always and inevitably corrupt, but there sure seems to be a lot of corruption going on. It isn’t a new development; maybe it’s worse nowadays or maybe just more visible.
So how can we single taxers say that we want the government to collect all, or nearly all, of the economic rent? Don’t we know that it will be stolen or, at best, wasted?
Not necessarily. Consider the following:
In the U S at least, real estate tax is administered and collected at the local — that is, substate– level. This is where the records and expertise needed to operate a land value tax exist.
Unlike income tax or sales tax, nearly all the data involved in real estate taxation is public information. Most of this data is accessible to everyone with internet access, generally without fee. I can see how much real estate tax my neighbor paid. I cannot see how much income tax they paid. The same goes for sales taxes and most other kinds of taxes. So cheating in real estate tax can be seen. That doesn’t mean it will always be impossible for people to cheat, but it provides a much greater possibility that cheating will be observed and rectified.
Government corruption seems to be a function of government size. A survey earlier this year found that “87% of voters nationwide believe corruption is widespread in the federal government. Solid majorities believe there is also corruption in state (70%) and local (57%) government.” Looked at the other way round, only 13% of us believe the federal government is possibly honest, compared to 30% for states and 43% for localities. I actually believe that one of the local governments to whom I pay taxes is pretty honest and efficient.
State and federal governments might logically collect some of the economic rent. Examples currently include severance taxes and could reasonably include rents for electromagnetic spectrum should our rulers become persuaded to levy and collect them. Existing federal agencies are able to review and evaluate collection efforts.
It’s certainly true here, where owner-occupants (of houses or condos) pay less tax than renters occupying units of the same value, with additional discounts for old people, some military veterans, and some poor old people. Some owners also still benefit from deductability of mortgage interest and/or property tax. So why do renters put up with this discrimination?
I have always thought, and some data seems to confirm, that it’s because homeowners vote, and renters don’t. But according to this interview, the problem is similar, perhaps worse, in Australia. Voting in Australia is compulsory, which apparently means one is fined if one fails to at least show up at the polls (the fine is up to $79AU, less for their Federal elections). They also vote on Saturday, and seem to make a party of it, according to various posts such as here and here.
Of course just showing up doesn’t mean that you vote, nor that you pay much attention to candidates and issues, but the problem of low-information voters isn’t unique to Australia. Maybe there’s something about the worldview of people who rent vs. that of people who own….? Dunno.
U S jurisdictions do often provide some protections for tenants, which can disadvantage landlords, but they wouldn’t affect the status of owner occupants.
Great story by Hal Dardick in today’s Tribune explaining the real reason the Lincoln Yards TIF had to be Rahm’d thru the City Council before the new Mayor took office. The area just barely qualified as a TIF, and pending new assessments were going to rise enough that it would no longer be eligible. According to the story, it’s uncertain whether the new Mayor could have stopped the project, but she settled for what appear to be minor concessions.
Of course, the whole idea behind TIF’s is that money can be pulled from general revenue into giant slush funds, which the Mayor (and others) can manipulate with little oversight. Meanwhile, there’s little left for routine maintenance, replacement of infrastructure and funding of government schools and other services. Which increases the “need” for TIF’s.
Dardick’s article goes into considerable detail, includes a link to a recent report by Lincoln Institute (no relation to Lincoln Yards, afaik). He does say “land” when I think he means “land + improvements.”
One counterfactual that Dardick doesn’t bother with: What would have happened if Joe Berrios was still Assessor? Would he have nudged down some values to keep the area eligible? Or, to look at it the other way, suppose the current Assessor, who appears to be more conscientious, had been in office since 2013. Perhaps the earlier figures would have been higher, so the increase would be less?
We’ll never know, and it shouldn’t matter. In a well-run city, TIF’s wouldn’t be needed, and a well-informed electorate wouldn’t tolerate them.
As Polly Cleveland continues her project posting Mason Gaffney’s works, we find “Chicago’s Growth Spurt, 1890-1900.” It’s not very long, and worth reading today as a contrast to our current stagnation. Most importantly, Gaffney deduces circumstantial evidence that during the era of growth, land values were significantly taxed. As he notes in conclusion, “More research into Chicago’s political history is needed.”
The whole trove contains dozens of working papers, class notes, and publications, in Gaffney’s concise and understandable style. (You’ll find it linked here as well as above; depending on your screen size and magnification you might need to scroll over to the right to see it.)
The 2017 Census of Agriculture Illinois report was issued earlier this month, and here are a few statistics of interest:
Total value of land and buildings for the 72,651 farms in the state was $196,542,978,000. This amounts to $2.7 million per farm, and $7,278 per acre. Real estate taxes paid were $431,625,000, implying an effective tax rate of 0.22%.
58% of the acreage is tenant-farmed. However most (44,378) of the farms are owned by the operator, whereas 6,021 are farmed by tenants. The remainder (22,252) combine owned and rented acreage. The rent may be cash, or a share of crop, or other arrangement. Cash rent was reported to total $1,956,402,000.
Remember that whereas Georgists are concerned about who receives land rent:
Illinois contains 7,992 very small farms of 1-9 acres (Anything smaller than 1 acre isn’t counted in this census,) Most have less than $2500 revenue, but 64 of them report $1,000,000 or more. 3122 are operated by people who say farming is their primary occupation.
The report contains a huge amount of detailed information gathered from farm operators. That may help explain why the actual response rate (nationally) was just 71.8%, with systematic estimates covering the remainder. This rate is down from 74.6% in 2012, and 78.2% in 2007. Much of the data is reported at the county level as well as statewide.
Matt Levine has an illuminating post about why the recent reduction in corporate tax rates results in a reduction in some corporations’ reported profits. It seems that past losses can be saved as a “deferred tax asset,” permitting a reduction in taxes to be paid in future years. But the ratio of losses to tax reduction declines when the tax rate declines, so the deferred tax asset is reduced. Levine notes that such tax rate reduction can cause a corporation to appear less well capitalized, since it reduces assets, even tho it increases expected after-tax income.
Just another illustration of the absurdity of a corporate income tax (or perhaps of corporations in general). Of course corporations should pay taxes – based on the land (including spectrum and other natural resources) that they claim. And they should pay additional taxes reflecting the limited liability granted by the state. But the accounting concept of corporate income has little to do with this.
Well now, more precisely, how come the spectrum held by a TV station broadcasting from Ottawa fetched a higher price than any other station offered? WWTO is owned by Trinity Broadcasting and broadcasts on five digital subchannels according to the Wikipedia article. According to the report today from the Federal Communications Commission, their spectrum sold for $304 million, highest in the U S. , while WYCC’s spectrum in Chicago fetched only $16 million. I know there are all kinds of technical considerations that might explain the difference, but it’s a curious one. Some of us are suspicious when government-owned assets are sold for a comparatively low price. Both stations are reportedly going off the air.
Nationwide, most of the spectrum has been “purchased” by wireless companies but apparently some will be returned to the “unlicensed” category for use by wifi and similar low-power devices.
So most of the spectrum will be used by private corporations to provide services from which they expect to obtain a profit. Kind of like commercial land, which everyone agrees is subject to tax. So why does the government not tax privately-held spectrum?