Conference of State Legislatures (Boston)
GroundSwell, July-August 2007]
The attraction wasnt three ounces of beer or a give-away
visored cap or a five minute chair massage. Instead, a gameboard
featured a high-rise skyline of colorful plastic 1 inch cubes. And
when passing legislators or legislative staff or legislators
spouses ambled by and were hailed with an invitation to Tell
me about your citys rent scape, half could not pass up
the opportunity to brag on their hometowns high rents. The key
to success for two georgists, myself and Al Katzenberger, was
Oh, we talked. Me? Fast and furious. Al? Quiet but assertive (This
could work in Michigan!) Georgists do talk, and with good
tidings. But the attraction is listening.
After inquiring where to live and why rents differ place to place
across their city or state (after all, these were state legislators,
not city councilors), I drew my discussant attention to a stacked
set of eleven rectangular blocks with labels indicating a public
service or good such as roadways, public schools, universities, fire
protection, museums & parks, etc.
What would likely happen to the desirability of your city
if there were no parks and no paved streets?
Well, what if there were no fire protection ?
I guess itd go down. So Id remove a block
from the stack, and then repeat the first question . . . and end by
removing more blocks at each verbal prompt from the listener and
thinker in front of me.
I bit my tongue. I squirmed like a game show audience member who
knows the answer to the Jeopardy question as the seconds tick
silently by. Youre in government and you dont know
whether public infrastructure adds or subtracts to the desirability
of city and state?!
Instead of pinching the tip of my tongue off, I spoke. Not so as
to leave no room for a question in return. I suggest that the
entire value of government, to the extent there is value of
government, is embedded in the rent of land.
I repeat the declaration. Government value is not embedded in
buildings or labor for plainly, buildings and labor most pay for
desirable locations, and the locations are desirable because of the
propinquitous public infrastructure.
The moment my student concludes that some public services do
account for the desirability of location, I spin the blocks around,
revealing another set of labels. This is how that public
infrastructure is paid for at present: sales tax, income tax, import
taxes, business taxes, property tax [two separate blocks, one
specifying land only and the other improvements only], etc.
With this the legislator, staff or spouse agrees with a roll of
the eyes. Oh, those onerous taxes!
But havent we just established . . . you just told me
. . . that the value of government is embedded in the rent of land?
Look at this from a renters point of view and youll see
it plain as the ocean is a plain. The working renter pays taxes to
pay for public infrastructure, and that infrastructure commutes
value to land that shows up as higher rent. The renter pays twice
for public infrastructure: taxes to government, and the value of
those taxes as they inhere in land rent.
Astonished stare. They pay twice!
There you have it, dearies. The Socratic script employed to a
measure of success in Boston at the National Convention of State
Legislators, August 5-9. The key? Listening.
The measure of success, you stammer? What was the measure of
A request from a state legislator who teaches economics for a set
of my tax/public infrastructure labels to affix to his own
rectangular wooden blocks (My students will get this.)
The director of a program at the American Legislative Exchange
Council choking on his No-new taxes mantra as he haltingly admitted
no taxes on production are better than no New taxes.
The Americans For Tax Reform folk abandoning their ideal for the
Georgist ideal. (Note: their salaries are paid through next summer
by the NFTR so dont go chasing them down unless youre
ready with cash in hand).
The sight of SEIU apparatchiks defending taxes on labor rather
than embracing socialized land rent and an end to dishonoring labor
by taxing it.
The Parents Teacher Association (PTA) booth beading sweat as they
reflected upon the education their children are getting in being
complacent land slaves.
The silence in panel discussion of the Speaker of the Florida
State Assembly when his Jim Crow paean to eliminating the property
tax altogether was challenged in Q & A as certain to raise land
values to the detriment of the young families he claimed were
injured by Floridas high land values. The Lincoln Land
Institute expert on hand confirmed for the Speaker that his plan
would raise land values, thus making real estate even less
affordable what with the added mortgage interest burden. Ooops.
The Oklahoma legislator, self-described as the most conservative
member of that states legislature, stopping for twenty minutes
with Al and me and demanding take-away literature. The contact cards
given us by legislators.