Land value taxation embodies the principle that natural resources are the creations of nature and should therefore belong to society as a whole, not individuals – and as STWR acknowledges, the ramifications of this conceptual shift for a more just and sustainable world are potentially immense.
STWR were pleased to speak at an event last week on ‘Earth Rights and Sharing World Resources', organised by the Henry George Foundation of Great Britain and held courtesy of the London School for Economic Science. The afternoon event was chaired by David Triggs, Chairman of the Henry George Foundation, and involved a discussion with STWR's director and editor (Rajesh Makwana and Adam Parsons) and Alanna Hartzog, co-director of the Earth Rights Institute and General Secretary of the International Union for the Taxation of Land Values.
STWR put forward our broad arguments for why and how sharing is a critical solution to key global crises, and outlined what could be done to redistribute financial resources within the current economic system to address what we describe as a foremost global emergency - the unnecessary loss of around 40,000 lives each day due to poverty-related causes. We also acknowledged how the international systems we have in place today are far from a ‘global sharing economy' in the truest sense, and we gave a brief introduction to some of the implications of sharing world resources if we are ever to end poverty and create a sustainable and peaceful future. However, we placed emphasis on the fact that any grand vision of a new economic paradigm is entirely dependent upon a united, international and coordinated voice of the people that demands immediate action from governments in line with the principle of sharing.
A key question that came up in a Q&A discussion following the presentations involved the question of taxing the socially-generated value of land and other shared resources, and whether or not STWR considers land value taxation (LVT) as a solution to the key global crises we highlighted. The answer from us was unequivocally that the basic premise underpinning LVT - that land should be treated as a public resource that everyone has an equal right to benefit from - is entirely in line with the principle of sharing. Capturing land values could therefore have an important role to play in creating fair tax systems that recognise the source of social injustice, and such policies could go a long way to reducing poverty and creating a more equal society. As many proponents of LVT also argue, LVT has particular relevance to the development of effective tax systems in poorer countries.
Defining global priorities
There was a straightforward reason why STWR's latest report, Financing the Global Sharing Economy, did not advocate for the collection of the rental value of natural and community resources. The 10 policies highlighted in the report are based on various ways that governments could raise billions of dollars in additional revenues without significantly reforming the way they operate their economies. Since LVT is an alternative form of taxation that can replace existing streams of government revenue, it was not clear what proportion of the tax revenue could be redirected to finance an international response to the global emergency we described in the report. Furthermore, we were not able to source credible estimates for how much could be raised through LVT if it was implemented in either OECD countries or on a global basis.
The basic premise of the report was simply that governments have the means to mobilise staggering amounts of finance to end poverty-related deaths and needless human suffering across the world as animmediate priority - even before enacting widespread structural reforms to their economies. The report also demonstrates how all of the 10 policies outlined for raising government finance are based firmly on the principle of sharing, and it makes the case that world rehabilitation will only begin with a huge groundswell of popular support in favour of greater sharing in our societies, both nationally and globally. At present, the importance of sharing in economic and global terms has still to grip the public imagination, but it is evident that governments are very unlikely to enact policies for the global common good until this worldwide shift in human consciousness happens.
In this regard, land value or development taxation could be a crucial part of a policy mix based on resource sharing, presuming that governments are forced through public pressure to make a commitment to economic sharing as a guiding principle of national policy. Land value taxation could go a long way towards recognising that land is a shared resource of society, and it could do so without necessarily having to redistribute land and force owners off their property. It therefore presents a practical way of sharing land in the modern world where private ownership is already ubiquitous. By embodying the idea that natural resources are shared assets, it could also set a precedent for how common resources are dealt with by nation states, and may open up the possibility of taxing and redistributing rents from other natural resources.
A silver bullet?
Whether or not a wholesale shift to land value taxation is a silver bullet that can solve the world's environmental, social and security crises by itself is another matter. Perhaps any one economic policy, no matter how important, can only ever be part of a solution to the world's complex and interlocking problems. For example, land value taxation may have little application to finding ways of regulating consumption patterns across the world, which is clearly essential if all human beings are to flourish within ecological limits. Moreover, there is a huge challenge to address the existing extremes in wealth maldistribution between and within countries, which might initially require keeping some forms of taxes on inheritance, wealth, income and corporate profits. But LVT does embody the principle that natural resources are the creations of nature and should therefore belong to society as a whole, not individuals. The ramifications of this conceptual shift for a more just and sustainable world are potentially immense, and there is clearly an important link between land value taxation and the concept of sharing resources.
In the end, if another world is possible through democratic means then it is unrealistic to put forward a blueprint of what that better world might look like - at least at this stage of the ‘great transition' that inevitably awaits humanity. Only through a long process of popular democratic participation, international negotiation and regional experimentation may a new operating system for Planet Earth be forged in the midst of escalating economic breakdown. But this is another reason why STWR focuses so centrally on the principle of sharing, because in order to inspire public support for transformative change it is essential that ordinary people are enabled to lend their voice to the debate. Given the huge vested interests that stand in the way of changing the currently disastrous world direction, there may be little hope of achieving that better world without a crucial awakening of world public opinion in favour of global sharing.
- Land & Liberty magazine, by The Henry George Foundation
- The Earth Rights Institute
- The Earth Belongs to Everyone, a book by Alanna Hartzok [free pdf download]
- Stewardship Economy, a book by Julian Pratt
- How to End Poverty (a website/short film that explains land value taxation)
- Land Labour Campaign
- The International Union for Land Value Taxation (IU)