Land and Tax Issues for the African American Community

Dan Sullivan, director
Center for Local Tax Research
Wednesday, September 9, 1998

In the final analysis, the right-wing slogans on ‘government control’ and “creeping socialism” are as meaningless and adolescent as the Chinese Red Guard slogans against ‘bourgeois revisionism.’ An intelligent approach to the problems of poverty and racism will cause us to see the words of the Psalmist — “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” — are still a judgment upon our use and abuse of the wealth and resources with which we have been endowed.
-- A Testament of Hope: The Essential Speeches and Writings of Martin Luther King Jr: pp 629-630

This is a sketch of our past findings about the impact of various local taxes, with emphasis on their impact on the African-American community. It is followed by deeper philosophical observations about taxation, and finally about the politics of taxation. It addresses the question of "fairness," not just in terms of who pays more and who pays less, but also in terms of fundamental, classical liberal principles of what taxes are for and who rightly should pay. Although conservatives and libertarians have declared themselves to be following the principles of classical liberals, you will see that, in regard to what constitutes a fair tax, they are substantially at odds with those principles. Indeed, by the very principles that conservatives claim to espouse, they are paying far too small a share of the taxes, while poorer people, and especially poorer minorities, are paying too large a share.

It is also worth noting that some of the issues raised in this paper are radical, but not militant or extreme. Often the most extreme measures are the ones that treat symptoms without going to the root of problems. The proposals in this paper are so modest that they are seen as innocuous. Yet the underlying principles of justice have far-reaching implications. That will be discussed at greater length later in this paper. Our first task is to look at the direct impact of various local tax policies on the African American community.

Demographics of the African American Community

At all levels of government, census data indicates that African Americans have a much lower incidence of home ownership and a much higher incidence of renting than whites have. In Pittsburgh, which is the primary focus of this paper, 1990 census data shows that about two thirds of all white households are owner-occupied and about one third rent. The figures are almost exactly reversed for black households. That is, about two thirds of all black households are renter-occupied, and only one third own. This means that various tax policies that benefit homeowners at the expense of renters also shift the tax burden from the white community to the black community. At the national level, blacks in 1980 constituted 13% of the population but only held 1% of the privately owned land. We should get a more recent figure for this, but the disparity it is unlikely to be much better than it was in 1980.

Blacks also have statistically lower incomes than whites, but the difference in incomes is not nearly as great as the difference in home ownership. Moreover, the median value of real estate in African American communities is generally lower than the value in white communities, and that difference also exceeds income differences, but by a lesser amount. This means that replacing property tax with income tax is not only punitive to black renters, but is of marginal value at best to black homeowners.

Finally, it has been observed that homeowners in poorer neighborhoods, which tend to be black, are less likely to appeal property tax assessments than are people in wealthier neighborhoods, that tend to be white. But even within a single income category, homeowners from black communities are believed to be less likely to appeal their assessments. For example, far more appeals are filed from mostly white Brookline than from the mostly black upper Hill District, even though income levels are comparable. While we do not have statistical tabulation of this (yet), discussions with various assessors support this contention. The hypothesis we would put forward is that white homeowners tend to be more comfortable with legal processes, and even tend to view government more as their servant than as their rulers. In any case, as we will later note, a result is that, whenever there is a failure to scrupulously reassess real estate values, predopminantly black neighborhoods tend to become overassessed in relationship to predominantly white neighborhoods.

These demographics should be kept in mind as we discuss tax reform proposals.

Homeowner exemptions

Pennsylvania's recent constitutional amendment for homeowner tax relief stipulates that any tax forgiveness for homeowners cannot be funded from higher taxes on other real estate. The problem is that any replacement tax other than a real estate would fall heavily on renters. This means that tax relief for Pittsburgh's overwhelmingly white homeowner community of would be funded primarily from Pittsburgh's substantially black renter community.

Furthermore, various bills before the legislature differ in how they handle this provision. Some of them, such as Senate Bill 2, include requirements that would make it difficult for communities with homeowner exemptions to ever shift taxes from income or sales back to real estate.

Shifting from property tax to income and sales taxes

There has been a movement for some time, but especially in the last decade, to replace real estate taxes with income and sales taxes. Both of these measures actually increase the tax burden for Pittsburgh homeowners, because almost half of Pittsburgh's taxable property is investment property, and much more of its taxable land value is from investment land. A study we had undertaken for Pittsburgh council president Jack Wagner in 1989 calculated the property tax impact on every owner-occupied parcel in the city (including side lots). We found that homeowners paid more than twice as much under income tax as under property tax citywide, and more that 3 1/3 times as much under income tax as under land value tax.

We also did an analysis within each census tract, and found that income tax cost homeowners more than land value tax over their lifetimes in all census tracts except two tracts in the Golden Triangle, where land is especially valuable.

Another factor, especially in suburbs, is that we are speaking about highly localized tax bases. Braddock (a poor industrial suburb of Pittsburgh) would have to levy a 6% income tax to get the same revenue that Fox Chapel (a wealthy suburb) enjoys from a 1% income tax. This is less of a problem with property tax, however, because poorer communities tend to be absentee owned. A substantial share of the property taxes of places like Braddock are paid by landowners from places like Fox Chapel anyhow. This is even more true of land value taxes than of conventional property taxes, because land value tax tends to fall more on absentee owned properties.

Although we do not have direct tax impact comparisons between real estate taxes and sales taxes, we do have a state-by-state comparison of sales taxes and income taxes from Citizens for Tax Justice, a research organization in Washington DC that is supported primarily by labor unions. Their research indicates that Pennsylvania's sales tax falls far more heavily on middle-income and lower-income homeowners than our income tax does, even with exemptions for food, clothing and medicine.

The "ghetto effect" of productivity taxation

One of the problems with sales and income taxes is that they drive high-volume business and high-income residents out of the taxing jurisdictions that levy these taxes. When Pittsburgh had a 4% wage tax, the out-migration of residents reached alarming proportions. By 1988, Pittsburgh lost 4% of its population in a single year. Most of the people who had left were higher income renters.

Mayor Masloff commissioned an economic studies department of the University of Pittsburgh to find out exactly why people were leaving. They got a list of address changes from the Post Office and called people who had moved away, and asked them simply, "Why did you move from your previous location?" The number one answer given was to escape the high city wage tax. So, Mayor Masloff cut the wage tax for two years in a row, and the outflow was reduced to a near break-even point. However, since Allegheny County raised the sales tax and generated a great deal of negative publicity by trying to do so again, there is now a growing out-migration from the entire county. It is likely that that out-migration is also primarily by higher income renters.

As more affluent people leave jurisdictions with high income taxes, rents drop in those jurisdictions, and poorer people move in. The result is that high-income-tax jurisdictions tend to become low-income ghettoes. The same thing happens in the commercial sector under sales tax. High-volume stores tend to move to just outside the sales tax jurisdiction, and they take job opportunities with them.

The reason for this out-migration is not just because taxes are high, but because of the particular taxes chosen. When land value taxes are high, nobody takes their idle land to Washington County. Instead, they either put their land to use or they sell it to someone who will.

Property Tax vs. Land Value Tax

A shift to land value tax benefits the African American community in several ways. First of all, homeowners tend to pay less under land value tax than under property tax in black communities. We have documented that this savings is particularly striking in the cities of Clairton and Duquesne. At one time, it was particularly striking in black neighborhoods within Pittsburgh. However, bad assessment practices, which are discussed below, allowed property owners in prominent white neighborhoods to escape their share of the tax burden, while land purchases by the Urban Redevelopment authority propped up land prices, preventing land assessments from falling in certain black neighborhoods.

As a result, homeowners in the Upper Hill, who should be saving handsomely with land value tax, are paying about what they would pay with conventional property tax, while homeowners in the 12th Ward are paying an average of $24 more under land value tax than under property tax. Even with these problems, however, homeowners in black neighborhoods still save overall. There are substantial savings to homeowners in Hazelwood, the North Side, Fineview and the 13th ward.

Slumlording and speculation

Another important consideration of land value tax is the impact on land speculation. Conventional property tax falls heavily, not just on homeowners, but on anyone who improves and maintains their property. Because land value tax does not fall on the improvements, but only on the value of the land itself, people who hold run-down properties or vacant lots have to pay just as much as their responsible neighbors are paying. Land value tax makes it unprofitable to hold properties idle or in a state of neglect, and absentee owners tend to fix their properties up when the real estate tax is substantially on land values.

Pittsburgh shifted to land value tax four times between 1978 and 1983, and enjoyed a tremendous surge in construction and renovation following the shift, measured by construction values stated on building permits. In high land-value neighborhoods, like Squirrel Hill, Oakland, Shadyside and the Golden Triangle, there was a great increase in permits for new construction. In poorer neighborhoods, there was primarily an increase in permits for additions and renovations. This effect on neighborhood revitalization might well be more important to members of African-American communities than the savings to homeowners, even if assessments were reformed and the savings were more substantial.

Rental Housing

Another concern is the effect on renters and on the affordability of rental housing. It is a cliché that all taxes are passed on to the consumer, but economists who have examined the issue agree that this is not true about land value tax. Because land value tax leads to increased construction and renovation, it increases the supply of housing and actually decreases rental costs. Landlords can afford to charge lower rents when they have no taxes on their improvements, and they have to charge lower rents if other landlords are renovating vacant property and putting it on the market to compete with them. So, while land value tax is only a slightly better deal than property tax overall for black homeowners, it is a tremendously better deal for all tenants. There is ample reason, therefore, for the black community to support a shift to land value tax even before assessment reform is achieved. However, assessment reform is vital in its own right.

Assessment reform

There is a striking disparity in real estate assessment between white communities and black communities. The disparity is even greater for land than for property overall. There are many reasons for this. One that has received a great deal of attention is a history of corruption and favoritism in the assessment office during prior administrations. Whenever an assessor chose to give, or was ordered to give, a favorable assessment to a politically prominent constituent, he had to give favorable assessments to that constituent's neighbors as well in order to avoid easy exposure and public scandal. As a result, the politically prominent neighborhoods of Shadyside and Squirrel Hill in the city, and the prominent municipalities of Sewickley Heights, Edgeworth and Mount Lebanon, have been the most underassessed, while the 12th and 13th wards (Homewood and Brushton) in the city, and the municipalities of Clairton and McKeesport in the suburbs, have been most overassessed.

Aside from the prominent individuals within these neighborhoods, the neighborhoods themselves are politically prominent. The lion's share of campaign funds come from such neighborhoods, and they are the most politically active and politically independent neighborhoods. There is always a reluctance to antagonize homeowners in neighborhoods that not only vote in large numbers but actively campaign and make campaign contributions. After the city shifted substantially to land value tax, the county assessors began to systematically reduce land assessments in Squirrel Hill and Shadyside. This flies in the face of overwhelming evidence that land values have been increasing in those two communities faster than anywhere else in the city. To cover their tracks, they increased assessments on buildings. We have examples of buildings in Shadyside that are clearly inferior to similar buildings in Homewood, but are assessed higher as buildings. This is blatantly wrong, as the building assessment is supposed to be based on the value of the structure apart from its location, while the land assessment is supposed to be based on the value of the location itself.

However, there are other reasons for bad assessments besides political influence. Poor assessments tend to be mostly out-of-date assessments. Wealthier home buyers make a point of locating where land values are expected to rise. Failure to update assessments means failure to capture those rising values. Poorer home buyers are primarily just trying to escape the economic drain of paying rent forever, and will settle for neighborhoods that have no expectation of land value increases. Thus their assessment is roughly the same whether calculated from 1998 values or 1948 values. Land values also fail to rise in black neighborhoods, partly because white home buyers shy away from black neighborhoods due to racial "unease." Failure to update assessments, therefore, constitutes a failure to make higher income neighborhoods and whiter neighborhoods pay their legally proper share of real estate taxes.

Another factor that keeps land assessments up in black communities is the artificial land market created by purchases from redevelopment authorities. In the southern parts of Homewood-Brushton, particularly, vacant lots have been purchased at above market prices by the Urban Redevelopment Authority. While one can debate the merits of what the URA intends to do with this land, the point here is that that land on the private market would sell for less, and that private land sales are the basis for reassessment. When an authority aggressively buys up land in one area, it keeps assessments from falling.

And finally, as mentioned earlier in this paper, whites are believed to have a higher incidence of filing appeals than blacks of the same income levels, and higher-income homeowners also have a higher incidence of filing appeals than lower income homeowners. The appeals board makes this worse by granting reductions to property that was not overassessed at all, and sometimes to property that was already underassessed. Sometimes this is because assessors were poorly prepared to defend their assessments, but sometimes it was a matter of deliberate policy, and a desire to send the appealing taxpayer away "happy." When I confronted the assistant chief assessor about this, he replied, "We tend to give the benefit of the doubt to the taxpayer." What he did not seem to grasp was that any grant that is "more than fair" to the taxpayers who appeal is automatically less than fair to the taxpayers who do not appeal. "Benefit of the doubt," which is proper in criminal cases, is quite improper when trying to determine what each citizen's share of the tax burden should be. Because white taxpayers tend to be the ones who appeal, this practice shifts the net tax burden toward black taxpayers.

Land Value Tax vs. Economic Development Schemes

Economic development schemes have been widely criticized because they often wreak havoc in the neighborhoods they are supposed to be helping, are subject to all manner of political manipulation, and take land off the tax roles, often for extended periods. Even successful projects like the Crawford-Roberts development have scandalous histories behind them. The lower Hill District was effectively destroyed for urban redevelopment purposes in the early sixties, and was not substantially redeveloped until the mid-nineties.

These redevelopment schemes also forced a dramatic shift to public housing. Pittsburgh, which has a general surplus of housing, and the best ratio of housing prices to incomes of any large city in the United States, also has one of the highest ratios of public housing. This housing was needed, not so much because of a natural housing shortage, but because so many people had been relocated from mostly black neighborhoods for redevelopment purposes. The point here is not to criticize this or that redevelopment director. The problems to which I refer are common to almost all redevelopment schemes.

And yet, it is irresponsible to suggest that nothing should have been done. Although the business community contained in Penn Circle and the original Lower Hill neighborhood were destroyed by urban renewal, one must acknowledge that those locations were in serious economic decline even before urban renewal plans had been put forward. The responsible approach is not to hamstring urban renewal efforts and then hope that the free market will find a way, but to find a better way first, establish that way, get results, and then reduce or eliminate disruptive urban renewal efforts.

Land value tax has been introduced in seventeen Pennsylvania cities. Each of those cities had surges in privately initiated construction following the shifts. There is reason to believe that a significant, gradual shift to land value taxation will lead to substantial economic revitalization. When this occurs, the need for controversial urban redevelopment projects will be abandoned.

Delinquent taxes, foreclosure and abandonment

Pennsylvania has set up a system for collecting delinquent taxes that does not work very well for poorer municipalities. In the suburbs, especially, delinquent tax collection has been "privatized" on a commission basis. That is, the collection agency gets a share of the revenue, just like it would for collecting on an old phone bill or credit card bill.

The problem is that, in poorer neighborhoods, delinquent taxes have to accumulate before the collection agency sees a profit in aggressive collection. Often, while the taxes pile up, the property runs down, because the landlord who does not keep his tax bill current tends not to keep his maintenance current either. By the time the collection agency gets around to collecting, the property is barely worth the back tax burden, and the property is abandoned.

Shifting from real estate taxes to sales or income taxes makes this worse, because the lower the real estate tax, the longer collection agencies will wait before they aggressively pursue collection, and the more properties will be abandoned.

Fortunately, Pittsburgh does its own delinquent tax collecting, but even the city tax collectors are not aggressive enough about early foreclosure. Several measures have been introduced that would make it more difficult for landlords to escape delinquent debts, but the better solution is to not allow those debts to accumulate in the first place, except where there are legitimate hardship cases.

It should be noted that it is mostly absentee landlords, and mostly the more negligent of these landlords, who fall behind on their taxes. Homeowners are generally much more scrupulous about paying, and mortgaged homeowners are given no choice by the banks except to pay their taxes in advance into an escrow account.

Deeper issues about land and taxes

When the missionaries first came, they had the Bible and we had the land. Now we have the Bible and they have the land.

--Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Thaddeus Stevens, the abolitionist Congressman from Chambersburg, PA, advocated giving freed slaves "forty acres and a mule." This is because he recognized, as almost all classical liberals recognized, that land monopoly is another form of slavery, and that, without access to land, blacks would still be obligated to work for whites instead of working for themselves. Many of America's founders had learned from the Indians that land was a common heritage, and that land monopoly was a basis of exploitation bordering on slavery. The English classical liberals learned this in turn from the American colonists. Modern right-wing libertarians who pretend to be classical liberals try to repress the fact that opposing the evils of land monopoly lay at the very heart of classical liberalism. To make that point perfectly clear, I offer several quotes to that effect:

The land, the earth that God gave to man for his home, his sustenance and support, should never be the possession of any man, corporation, society or unfriendly government, any more than the air or water if as much. An individual or enterprise requiring land should hold no more in their own right than is needed for their home and sustenance, and never more than they have in actual use in the prudent management of their legitimate business, and this much should not be permitted when it creates an exclusive monopoly. All that is not so used should be held for the free use of every family to make homesteads, and to hold them so long as they are occupied.

--Abraham Lincoln

Whenever there are in any country uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right. .

-- Thomas Jefferson

The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying, "This is mine", and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes, might not anyone have saved mankind by pulling up the stakes, filling in the ditch, and crying to his fellows, "Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody."

--Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) "Social Contract"

Whilst another man has no land, my title to mine, and your title to yours, is at once vitiated.

--Ralph Waldo Emerson

Solving the land question means the solving of all social questions.. Possession of land by people who do not use it is immoral -- just like the possession of slaves.

-- Leo Tolstoy

Robinson Crusoe, as we all know, took Friday as his slave. But suppose that instead of taking Friday has his slave, Robinson Crusoe had welcomed him as a man and a brother, had read him a Declaration of Independence, an Emancipation Proclamation and a Fifteenth Amendment, and informed him that he was a free and independent citizen, entitled to vote and hold office, but had at the same time had also informed him that that particular island was his (Robinson Crusoe's) private and exclusive property. What would have been the difference? Since Friday could not fly up into the air, nor swim off through the sea, since if he lived at all he must live on the island, he would have been in one case as much a slave as in the other. Crusoe's ownership of the island would have been equivalent to his ownership of Friday.

Chattel slavery is, in fact, merely the rude and primitive mode of property in man. It only grows up where population is sparse. It never, save by virtue of special circumstances, continues where the pressure of population gives land a high value, for in that case the ownership of land gives all the power that comes from the ownership of men, in more convenient form. When in the course of history, we see the conquerors making chattel slaves of the conquered, it is always where population is sparse and land of little value, or where they want to carry off their human spoil. In other cases, the conquerors merely appropriate the lands of the conquered, by which means they just as effectually, and much more conveniently, compel the conquered to work for them.

--Henry George, Social Problems, Chapter 15, "Slavery and Slavery"

Men did not make the earth.. It is the value of the improvements only, and not the earth itself, that is individual property.. Every proprietor owes to the community a ground rent for the land which he holds.

--Tom Paine

This last quote of Paine's holds the key getting the best of private property in land without the possibility of monopoly and exploitation and without substantial interference in the free market. If each landholder pays a ground rent, or land value tax, to the community, then those who genuinely want to use land will willingly pay the tax, while those who had wanted to profit by holding land out of use will either change their strategy or go elsewhere.

Political Considerations

If land value tax is a fundamentally fair tax, as almost all classical liberals agreed that it was, and if African Americans hold 1% of America's land, it stands to reason that African Americans should be paying roughly 1% of the taxes. Even if African Americans pay less income tax on a per capita basis, they surely pay far more than 1% of the taxes. I believe we can easily show that the share of taxes paid by African Americans in Pittsburgh is much larger than the share of land held by them. This can debunk the conservative lie that middle class whites are overtaxed to support subsidized blacks. Indeed, middle-class whites are overtaxed just as blacks are, but it is to the benefit of land monopolists who live off the productive efforts of everyone else, and who form the main economic base of conservative politics.

Allying working-class whites with working-class blacks

Black politics has suffered because monopolists have been able to pit working-class whites against working-class blacks in order to divert attention from their monopolies.

Land monopolists' kids didn't get schlepped around in busses to desegregate public schools, because those kids go to private schools, funded by land rents from both blacks and whites. Whether or not bussing was a good idea on its merits, it played into the hands of monopolists who wanted to divide working people along race lines.

Land monopolists don't worry that "Some affirmative action black guy will get my job," because they don't need jobs; they have the land, and the people with jobs ultimately work for them. The issue of equal rights to jobs is legitimate, but it also pits working class blacks against working-class whites, enabling monopolists to play upon the fears of the whites and the frustrations of the blacks. Yet, as soon as the issue becomes one of an equal right to land, or even a right to not be taxed disproportionately to one's land holdings, working-class whites and blacks are suddenly on the same side, and land monopolists are on their own.

Using the right’s rhetoric against the monopolists

The political right has succeeded in beating up the left more on taxes than on any other issue. This is because working people and genuinely productive capitalists actually are overtaxed, and the right was eager to say so. However, the monopolists who fund the right prevent them from saying that the reason why those people are overtaxed is because monopoly is undertaxed.

When the corporate elite say that profits should not be taxed, we can say fine, let us tax land instead, for these corporations usually have low ratios of profits to land holdings.

When they complain that taxes interfere with economic growth, we can quote their own economist heroes, men like Milton Friedman and Arthur Laffer, who state point blank that land value tax is the one tax that does no such thing.

When they start whining about entitlements and transfer payments, we can point out that the title to land is the mother of all entitlements, and the payment of rent to title holders is the mother of all transfer payments. We can even quote another of their heroes, Winston Churchill, to back up the claim.

When the biggest landowners and corporate interests in Pittsburgh say that we must build them new stadiums so they can entertain visiting elites in corporate boxes, we can say, build it with land value tax. At least that way they will pay a significant portion of the costs. Probably, our economy would be so strong under land value tax that they would not need stadium subsidies, and we would feel the need to give them subsidies.

When they say that we must give special tax breaks to corporations who offer to develop here, we can go them one better and say, "lets give tax breaks to everyone who has ever developed here, and tax increases only to those who hold land back from development."

When they say that taxation steals the fruits of people's labor, we can point out the value of land is not the fruits of the landholder's labor, and that land-monopolists also steal the fruits of labor when they charge a monopoly rent.

When they start ranting about socialism, as they do when all else fails, we can point out that most of their capitalist heroes advocated land value tax.

At every turn, where the right has successfully beat up the left on tax issues in recent years, land value tax uses their own rhetoric against the monopolists among them, like jujitsu. This is because land value tax is the key ingredient of their own philosophical system that the monopolists have been working to conceal for the last 100 years--the ingredient that spoils their monopoly game.

The Ultimate Coalition

The community of people who would benefit from a shift to land value tax is broader than any political coalition we have seen in my lifetime. To begin with, it includes all ethnic minorities:

American Indians can support it because they originated the concept. Indian activist Russell Means, veteran of the Wounded Knee incident (and the voice of the father of Disney's Pocahontas), is a dedicated advocate of land value tax.

Hispanics can support it because, like the American Indian, they have been made into tenants and even illegal immigrants in what was their ancestor's own country. They live in states with Spanish names, but only by permission of English speaking landlords, some of whom insist that they adopt English as their "mother" tongue.

Even most Asians can join this coalition, because nobody can pit the stereotype of the energetic and disciplined Asian American against the stereotype of the lazy undisciplined black. Both are overtaxed so that the land monopolist can be undertaxed.

It can also include all the interest groups that ever embraced progressive causes:

Many Jews have supported it because the Jewish culture has a long history of living as tenants in European countries that did not allow Jews to own land.

Many Irish Americans support it because the people of Ireland had long been tenants in their own country to English landlords.

There is growing support among labor union leaders. In Pittsburgh, Albert Fondy of the Pennsylvania Federation of Teachers supports it enthusiastically. Labor Day itself was deliberately set on the birthday of Henry George (quoted above) because of his advocacy that land should be taxed instead of labor. He is considered to be America's first great labor economist. Many early labor-movement heroes supported land value tax.

Nonunion workers can support it because it will untax their paychecks.

Government workers can support it because shifting to land value tax is tax-saving alternative to slashing government programs.

Tenants can support it because it improves the housing stock, holds down rents and makes it easier for tenants to become homeowners.

Most homeowners can support it simply because most homeowners will pay less.

Feminists can support it because the monopoly form of land tenure is a product of conquest, and conquest is a very anti-feminist thing.

Pacifists can support it because most wars are waged to dominate land and thereby collect the rent of land. Many wars are petpetuated more by land speculators and landholding factions than by actual national interests.

Greens support it because they regard the earth as a common heritage. Northwest Environment Watch recently published a book called Tax Shift that advocates shifting to land value tax plus taxes on pollution and on resource extraction.

This issue can even win support from people who have lately been in the conservative camp:

Retail merchants can support it, especially as an alternative to sales tax, because sales tax drives business away from them.

Small businesses in general can support it because they are far more land-efficient than giant corporations are, and because a shift to land value tax will give them the competitive advantage they deserve.

Small farmers are also more land efficient than large farmers. And, surprisingly, most full-time family farms pay less under land value tax than under property tax. This is because the tax is on value, not acreage, and value is much higher in cities, towns, and inner suburbs.

Even conservatives who are true to their philosophies, and not just apologists for monopoly, have embraced the concept of land value tax.

All that is left out of this coalition is the land monopolists themselves and the political conservatives that depend on them for funds. Even they can be placated if land value tax is promoted on a principled, win-win basis.

Speak Softly, and Carry a big Principle

Our experience is that most politicians who consider the land value tax issue are inclined to support it, just because it makes sense to them. However, they are under considerable pressure from powerful real estate interests to not support it. It has never been necessary to organize pressure groups in order to push them into adoption, but it has sometimes been necessary to inform the public so that the elected official would not be maligned by these interests.

In Pittsburgh, for example, land value tax shifts had been adopted four times between 1978 and 1989. In each case, the vote was overwhelming. The difficulty had been in getting anyone to introduce a land value tax measure. Supporters of land value tax have been reasonable and accomodating, while opponents from big real estate lobbies have been strident and shrill. Such shrillness has always backfired because people with that much power are expected to be more diplomatic.

It is also noted that the most flamboyant officials have never served as a force for land value tax. It has always been the quieter politicians who advanced it most. The principle advocates of land value tax on Pittsburgh City Council were William Coyne, Robert Rade Stone, William Russell Robinson and Jack Wagner.

We therefore have reason to believe that a reasoned approach by responsible community leaders is the most reliable way to shift taxes off productivity and onto land values.