Is the community collecting the rent at 31st Street Harbor?

linked from Chicago Public Building CommissionChicago Park District’s new harbor at 31st street reportedly cost $103 million and can accommodate 1000 boats.  “Rates for the new harbor range from about $3,780 for a 35-foot slip to more than $10,000 for the longest slips of 70 feet and more, excluding taxes and a 25 percent nonresident surcharge.”

One could imagine that these figures might actually cover debt service, maintenance, and the economic rent of the lakefront location.   But there’s no such indication in the Park District’s 2011-15 Capital Improvement Plan, which lists funding and projects, but makes little effort to tie the two together so there’s no indication of how much any project costs nor how it’s paid for.  Nothing in the latest posted (2010) Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, either.

But in the process of browsing the District’s web site, I did discover that I would be violating their regulations if, without a permit, I post on this web site a photo that I took on Park District property.

The Public Building Commission has some information on their web site, including some contracts and many construction photos.  Can’t wade thru all of the former, but they appear not to include any information on how the project is funded.

Taiwan monitors land value

Shin Kong Life Tower
photo of Shin Kong Life Tower from Wikimedia

Much like Korea, Japan, and other advanced countries, Taiwan has a land value tax which requires it to monitor land value regularly.  And they do, apparently pretty well, as indicated by this report that 2011 land values average 8.65% over the previous year. The land value tax could be one of the reasons Taiwan seems to be more prosperous than most countries, but that isn’t my point.

My point is that assessing land value is not exceedingly difficult, if one has competent and reasonably honest assessors.  The most valuable land in Taiwan is reportedly under the Shin Kong Life Tower, NT$1.21 million per square meter (about $4,000 per square foot, a figure probably never seen in Chicago).

Thanks to the Facebook LVT group for the link.

Drug prohibition coordinates politicians and “gangs”

image credit: Rosalyn Davis via Flickr (cc)

David Bernstein and Noah Isackson have a pretty good article in Chicago Magazine, Gangs and Politicians in Chicago: An Unholy Alliance. Focusing mainly on Alderman but also including State and Federal legislators, they assert that “gangs” provide the money, votes, and workers that enable officials to attain and retain their office.  In exchange, the governments these legislators control provide funds and favors.

Isackson and Bernstein stop short of suggesting how to repair this problem, but reading thru the article it’s clear that the main way these “gangs” prosper is thru unauthorized distribution of drugs.  And one of the main favors aldermen provide is assistance in avoiding “law enforcement” efforts to arrest them. End the drug prohibition, most of the “gangs'” income will end, and candidates will no longer get “gang” money.  They’ll have to rely on crooked lawyers, lobbyists, etc.

Some of the drug money, of course, has gone into real estate, with “gang” members able to get favors such as rezoning and inspection waivers. A land value tax, by constraining real estate speculation, would be of assistance here.


Another successful politician endorses land value tax

Nick Boles
image from Financial Times

Nick Boles

MP for Grantham and Stamford. New-intake MP and a key moderniser. Former Policy Exchange director and one of the Notting Hill set. Deemed close to the leadership. Tipped for bigger things

I assume this means he’s successful, British political terminology being rather unfamiliar to me. What’s really important is that

Nick Boles, The MP for Grantham and Stamford says a Land Value Tax should be introduced and use the proceeds to cut National Insurance – permanently.

He doesn’t want to do it exactly how I would want to do it, because he seems to want to exclude owner-occupied residential land and farmland, without limitation.  But the important thing is, he’s a successful politician, he gets elected, and he appears to want to move toward a sound economy. I’m just some guy with a blog.

I also don’t know how all this relates to the British custom of building homes on rented land far more commonly than Americans do. But it seems to be his top priority.

Source: FT via GN

Cuba gets it half-wrong

What kind of financial crisis could America have had without private collection of land rent?  If homebuyers were able to purchase a house, but the land came practically free with an obligation to pay a land value tax, how bad could the mortgage mess have been?  Not very bad, evidently, since mortgages would have been much smaller and quite unlikely to go under water (because the price of houses can’t decline nearly as much as that of the land under them).

Veranda in CubaWhich is why I’m not pleased to learn that Cuba will allow the private purchase and sale of homes (including, apparently, both structure and land).  There will be limits (only Cuban citizens and permanent residents, and only two homes per person) “to prevent speculative buying and the accumulation of large real estate holdings,” tho one wonders how long-lived and how effective they’ll be.

There’s no question that Cuba’s struggling economy needs freer trade, and moves to allow buying and selling of cars, and an increase in the permitted size of private businesses, tend in that direction.   It’s unfortunate that the Cuban powers that be don’t seem to recognize that land is different, since by definition it will never be produced no matter how free or prosperous the economy.

“The new law requires that all real estate transactions be made through Cuban bank accounts so that they can be better regulated, and it sets a tax rate of 8 per cent of the assessed value.”  The need for more government revenue is one possible explanation for this change.  Another is that Cuban elites anticipate, after further easing of land ownership restrictions, the ability to accumulate at low prices sites which will become valuable in the future.  The least likely is that Cuban authorities just haven’t thought about what land is and its role in political economy.


Hong Kong’s “citizens dividend”

I have previously discussed Hong Kong’s land tenure system, under which the land is publicly owned, but improvement owners have security of tenure in exchange for paying significant land rent.  One result is that most working people don’t have to pay any sales or income taxes.  Another is that land is efficiently used.

But there are a couple of concerns:

  • Since Hong Kong doesn’t collect all the economic rent, speculation can still drive up the cost of housing as well as any activity which uses land (and they all do).
  • Wealthy mainland residents are moving to Hong Kong to take advantage of the increased liberties which HK residents get, further driving up costs for local people.

Now we read that every HK has declared a sort of citizens’ dividend, every permanent resident will get HK$6,000 (US$773, currently).  Bloomberg calls it a “handout,” but I think “share of economic rent” might be more appropriate.  Opponents of the move say it will be inflationary, and certainly it could lead to higher economic rent, with speculation driving land costs even higher. Of course, if people expected the government to collect all the economic rent, speculation would not occur. While the cost of living might still increase, giving an equal dividend to every resident would tend to flatten the income distribution, helping the poor much more than the wealthy.


Who needs federal transit funding?

Not the Washington DC streetcar project, which at a cost of $1.5 billion is expected to raise land values by $5 to $7 billion.  (This is the increase in value of “existing properties.” Double it to include the value of new construction.) So collecting just 30% of the increase should be sufficient to pay the cost.

A lot of details are missing from the source article, and so far I don’t know how to get the  study which it describes.

Thanks for Alanna Hartzok for the tip.


Saudi housing bubbling

Suppose you are a king. And suppose you have a restless, mostly young population, high unemployment, with most people having to rent because housing and land are too expensive. Few people can get mortgages, because they involve large down payments and high interest rates. Also suppose that you have a big country, lots of land relative to population, and a huge government surplus. What to do?

You could examine why housing is so expensive, and whether there’s a way to make more land available. Maybe that’s happened in Saudi Arabia, but recent news reports give no indication.  Instead, the Saudi solution is to encourage the mortgage industry and expand credit.  Will that make housing cheaper?  Will that make it easier for an underemployed population to get decent housing? Or will it drive up the price of land and feed what seems to be an already-building bubble?  It may be that the Saudi objective is to get more of their people into debt-slavery so they’ll faithfully serve the state.  I don’t know.

What really puzzles me is how mortgage interest fits into an Islamic-dominated state.  Possibly this is like the “Islamic Finance” offered by some U S banks, where no interest as such is charged, but either the price is inflated to compensate for the fact that it will be paid gradually, or the “homeowner” is technically a renter until enough rent has been paid to cover the cost plus what, to others, would be interest.

Bloomberg says the King pledged more than $82 billion for housing, but does not say whether this comprises direct government grants, or is simply some amount of debt which homebuyers will contract.  It also says that

Saudi Arabia’s mortgage law will change the way home finance is regulated, from registering mortgages to prosecuting police officers who refuse to carry out eviction orders.

This will be interesting to watch, preferably from a distance.

More about Saudi housing and morgages:


How to prevent economic Ebola?

Economic Ebola is “the virus that infects scientists and engineers and causes them to go to Wall Street rather than create something of societal value,” says Paul Kedrosky.  Graduates with quantitative skills are offered salaries up to five times what they could make in productive work, so of course many of them spend their time finding ways to scrape a few million from high-velocity financial markets, rather than designing products or processes that would actually increase society’s satisfaction.

“Let’s save the world by keeping our engineers out of finance,” says Vivek Wadhwa. [Well, they’re not really our engineers, they belong to themselves, but we’ll skip that for now.]  A fine idea, but how to do it?  One answer might be a financial transaction tax, a tiny levy on each financial trade which could remove the profit from “financial engineering.” It would have no real effect on “long-term” investors who hold a position for more than a day. Seems like a good idea, but of course there will need to be a definition of what is a “financial transaction” for tax purposes, and clever people will find a way to design a transaction which doesn’t meet the criteria.

Maybe a better approach is to eliminate or scale back some of the things that make financial engineering lucrative.  For instance, if a land value tax prevented private collection of land rent, the mortage/financial crisis we’re still in would have been much smaller, or perhaps not possible at all.  We might want to go back to the classical concept of usury, forbidding all transactions where interest is charged for the use of money.  (People can still get compensation for lending money, but it would be as some agreed share of the profits which the investment generates, keeping the lender conceptually closer to the borrower.)

Of course we could start with something simple, like having the government take over insolvent banks, prosecuting and imprisoning criminal executives, letting stockholders, bondholders, and others who have unwisely trusted the bank to absorb the financial loss.  That alone would make financial engineering a lot less appealing.

Real Congressional Reform– The Art Auble Plan

The draft report from the Fiscal Responsibility Commission, subject of my previous post, has some proposals for reform of how Congress makes (or doesn’t make) expenditure decisions.  Frankly, I do not understand them.  Perhaps this is because the draft report is simply a series of slides, not really a report.  Or maybe these things are too complex for a simpleton like me to understand.

Separately, there is apparently a proposal to cut Congresspersons’ pay, and even one to reduce their pay every year that the government runs a deficit.

But these won’t work, for a very simple reason: Continue reading Real Congressional Reform– The Art Auble Plan