Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Proof by Etymology

While writing my earlier posts about Georgism, I ran across a website that makes an argument popular among Georgists: that private ownership of land is made invalid by its “royal” origin:
Land, however, is not the fruit of anyone's labor, and our system of land tenure is based not on labor, but on decrees of privilege issued from the state, called titles. In fact, the term "real estate" is Middle English (originally French) for "royal state." The "title" to land is the essence of the title of nobility, and the root of noble privilege.
Of course, private property in land existed long before the feudal era; it just didn’t go by the name “real estate” yet. But set that aside, and suppose private property really did derive from royal privilege just a few short centuries ago. This still proves nothing bad about the institution of private property as it exists now. If private property is a royal privilege, it is a royal privilege now shared by about two-thirds of Americans (about 66% of Americans own their own homes). Typically, they have purchased the property using money acquired through their own labor. And you don’t need the king’s permission to get some of your own; you just need to raise enough cash to buy it.

Moreover, the policies Georgists advocate would actually return property ownership, in some degree, to the royal class – that is, to the state. A property tax reduces the value of land by an amount equal to the present value of the expected tax liability. In other words, when the government creates or raises a property tax, it expropriates a portion of the land’s value even if it doesn’t seize the title. If Georgists had their way, the property tax would rise high enough to extract the entire ground rent of the land – in other words, until the entire value of the land, net of improvements, belonged to the government. The agents of the landlord state would have discretion to decide how that value, received in the form of property tax revenues, should be used. If that’s not royal privilege, I don’t know what is.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Happy Halloween, Glen!

I'm sorry to ruffle your feathers but you're argument needs considerably more work before you publish it. Knowing you, you'll work the kinks out. Most land is really in the hands of the lending institutions, usually banks. Talk about royal, ofttimes IGNOBLE institutions! Who owns and controls the banks is a more relevant question than how many families have so-called paper title to their home. (The morality or immorality bank investment activities requires a separate lengthy discussion.) Also, it depends on what the government is doing with your property taxes. If corrupt government is just a conduit for funneling the tax receipts back to the wealthy class in one form or another then you are right. But, if government is using the money to pay for infrastructure that supports the value and habitability of your property (and the community as a whole) like police/fire protection and road & sewer maintenance etc. then I don't get your point at all unless of course the property taxes become oppressive as was the case when Prop. 13 passed in California. Btw, isn't it the constitutional responsibilty of the federal government to protect us from terrorists? Then why is the Bush administration shifting the burden to the state and local governments? I had to find a way to bring Tom Bell back into the discussion.

--Property Tax Collector