Comments on the Presentation:
"Measuring the Benefits of Shifting Taxes to Land"
by Nicolaus Tideman
H. William Batt
[Notes take at the Henry George Lecture, Scranton University, Spring
2004. Reprinted from
GroundSwell, May-June 2004]
Our own Professor Nicolaus Tideman was invited to deliver the
spring, 2004, presentation to the Economics and Finance Department
of Scranton University on May 6. In fact he gave three
presentations, one to an audience largely of faculty and local
government officials at a noontime luncheon, a second in during late
afternoon to the assembled students of the various classes, and an
evening after-dinner presentation to students and faculty honoring
the school's chapter of Omicron Delta Epsilon, the economics honor
society. Nic Tideman's seminar title was "Measuring the
Benefits of Shifting Taxes to Land," and his evening
presentation was the 13th Annual Spring Henry George Program lecture
"Morality and Economic Justice."
The delightful part of this twice yearly event is that it is
gaining in visibility, having now had among its guests some five
subsequent Nobel prize-winning laureates. Although that will not
impress our Georgist community, it is significant that it is called
the Henry George Lecture series, and brings to the attention of
leading economics figures the intellectual contribution of George.
Scranton University years ago received a grant from the Robert
Schalkenbach Foundation, one of four universities so favored. The
trustees of the school invested the money well, and that endowment
now is used to highlight Georgist thought each fall and spring. Each
year a few representatives from the board of directors of
Schalkenbach are invited to the event in gratitude and recognition
of this gift. The representatives this spring were Bill Batt, Ted
Gwartney (who conducted a discussion session at the luncheon on
assessment matters), Schalkenbach Acting Executive Director Mark
Sullivan, and of course Dr. Tideman, himself. Others who attended
that are well known among our Georgist community were Wyn Achenbaum
and Joshua Vincent, who is the director of the Center for the Study
of Economics. As has always been true, the arrangements were
graciously handled by Professor Hong Nguyen, a member of the
Scranton University economics faculty.
Nic Tideman's noontime presentation addressed matters of
fairness, but quickly shifted to questions from the assembled
guests, most of whom had concerns about assessments. Some were
assessors themselves, yet there was no great familiarity with land
value taxation as Georgists espouse. Because this was new material
for most of them, the most that could be expected was introducing
them to the experiences of some twenty municipalities in
Pennsylvania that employ this approach. Fortunately Josh Vincent was
able to make contact with the local leaders who showed interest,
offering opportunities for later follow up.
The 4:00 pm presentation Nic made to students and faculty was a
rendition of a formal paper titled "The Case for Taxing Land,"
it begins as follows: "There is a case for taxing land based on
ethical principles and a case for taxing land based on efficiency
principles. As a matter of logic, these two cases are separate.
Ethical conclusions follow from ethical premises and efficiency
conclusions from efficiency principles. However, it is natural for
human minds to conflate the two cases. It is easier to believe that
something is good if one knows that it is efficient, and it is
easier to see that something is efficient if one believes that it is
good. Therefore it is important for a discussion of land taxation to
address both question of efficiency and questions of ethics."
The remainder of the paper made his case, the efficiency case
with lots of formulas and graphics, the equity case more simply
using deductive logic. He later made clear that he's willing to
share that paper with others in the Georgist community that may wish
to have it. It is worth reading.
The evening presentation was billed as the keynote of the day,
and in past years it has been. Due to the exigencies of the schedule
Nic Tideman was forced to simplify his moral argument and cut short
his presentation. Fortunately, his voluminous other writing
amplifies the thrust of his thinking, and few others have given as
extended an argument as Nic has.