A Tribute to Harry Gunnison Brown
[Comments made by Prof. Dick Netzer at a Tax
Symposium held at the University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri; 6
A fair proportion of all economists who have given any thought to the
question appear convinced that the theoretical case for land value
taxation as a distinctly superior instrument for financing the urban
public sector has long since been made, in no small measure by the
writings of Harry Gunnison Brown. A nagging question must occur to
those who are so persuaded; why do so many others remain unconvinced?
More relevantly, why has it been so difficult to persuade governments
of the merits of land value taxation? There are some obvious answers:
fiscal institutions, especially those at the local level, are
notoriously slow to change; the case for land value taxation is
difficult to explain to laymen, like so many other theoretical
propositions that to economists are seemingly obvious - propositions
as general as the conditions for economic optimality, the efficiency
of decentralized economic decisions - making through markets, and the
for internalizing externalities, and as policy-specific as fractional
reserve banking, compensatory financing, and floating exchange rates.
Furthermore, however good the explanations the persistence of
ignorance and error is remarkable in human affairs while the gainers
from land values are peculiarly influential in public affairs while
the rest ofus are diffuse and relatively uninfluential.
One of the more dismal characteristics of the very recent past is the
emergence of bad ideas whose time seems to have come.
taxation is a good idea, and its time may be at hand at last.