There’s a lot to love about RSF, but the thing I appreciate most is its fundamental autonomy. Having spent most of my career with much larger organizations, many of which were baked into almost inconceivably large matrices of federal and state grants and regulations, or guided by missions too intentionally diffuse to allow for real accountability. But this little foundation, brought into being to advance the ideas of Henry George, has none of those hang ups or distractions.
What we do here reflects that reality, and one of the things I do most often these days, is talk to people about what it would be like to implement a land value or two rate tax in their own city or town. Part analytical presentation, part fundamental exploration of who their hometowns are right now and who they could become, these really are interesting conversations.
We’ve all heard the expression, “the numbers speak for themselves,” and that’s the case with our work. But numbers alone aren’t nearly romantic enough to carry the day when what you’re talking about is a profound reshuffling of tax burdens. Unsurprisingly, people with any kind of skin in the game need a heck of a lot more than that to consider touching the third rale that is their neighbors’ property tax bills.
Fortunately, land value taxes aren’t about numbers alone, and each of these outreach calls takes on a life of its own. Sometimes the conversation turns from the numbers to the policy’s ability to increase tax progressivity. At other times, the initial leap is into a discussion of the land-use patterns it encourages (namely increased infill development and redevelopment, coupled with reduced development pressure on the periphery). Inevitably, we talk about that most foundational notion of value capture: reclaiming for community use the portion of land’s value derived from community investments.
Our team has no script. Even if we wanted one (which we don’t!), creating such a thing would be impossible, because no two conversations look alike. But no matter how the conversation transpires, more often than not, the person on the other end of that zoom remarks (usually verbatim) that, “This feels like a no brainer.”
We don’t seek to “sell” the idea of land value tax. That’s not our job. But, we do explore its real-world applications and implications, and educate others about what we find. That – according to our Foundation’s very simple mission – most definitely is our job. And when we hear those six words, we know we’ve done it.
So, does this mean that we’ll start seeing land value taxes popping up all around us in no time? Sadly, no. Josh, Stephanie, and I (aka: the Center for Property Tax Reform) still bump up against the same obstacles that have thus far prevented the large-scale adoption of land value taxes in the U.S.
But hearing that “this feels like a no brainer,” from so many different mouths, keeps us pushing on. Because land value tax is a no brainer. We have the numbers to prove it, and the charge to do just that.