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End the 1 Percent’s Free Ride: Taxing Land Would Solve America’s Biggest Problems

Want a real overhaul of the tax code? Here's an elegant way to reduce inequality and mitigate poverty — in one tax.

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Nothing could simplify and demystify the taxation experience for Americans like making sure that the vast majority of us who don’t own the resources, who don’t collect rent and capital gains, who have to work to get our paychecks, wouldn’t ever have to mark April 15 on the calendar again.

In contrast to its tiny tax base, the amount of revenue that can be raised by taxing the land is huge. Enough, for example, to support truly liberatory social spending, like a universal basic income, without risking inflation. Or the money could be devoted to starting a sovereign wealth fund to collectivize ownership claims on capital (the dividends to provide a UBI). Or it could go to local public banks capable of investing in the needs of their communities and regions.

If this sounds like it’s a little too far outside the box, the solution is to collapse the box. Capitalism requires pretending that individuals’ private ownership of the land, minerals, gases and oils that nature provided is not a completely ludicrous idea. And as long as our political parties are both capitalist parties, there is little hope for a land value tax. But the day is coming, and soon, when it will no longer be so.

 

Jesse Myerson is a writer and activist whose work has appeared in The Nation, Salon, Jacobin, In These Times, and elsewhere.