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The hidden taxable capacity of land: enough and to spare

Mason Gaffney (Department of Economics, University of California, Riverside, California, USA)

International Journal of Social Economics

ISSN: 0306-8293

Article publication date: 13 March 2009




A tax based on land value is in many ways ideal, but many economists dismiss it by assuming it could not raise enough revenue. Standard sources of data omit much of the potential tax base, and undervalue what they do measure. The purpose of this paper is to present more comprehensive and accurate measures of land rents and values, and several modes of raising revenues from them besides the conventional property tax.


The paper identifies 16 elements of land's taxable capacity that received authorities either trivialize or omit. These 16 elements come in four groups.


In Group A, Elements 1‐4 correct for the downward bias in standard sources. In Group B, Elements 5‐10 broaden the concepts of land and rent beyond the conventional narrow perception, while Elements 11‐12 estimate rents to be gained by abating other kinds of taxes. In Group C, Elements 13‐14 explain how using the land tax, since it has no excess burden, uncaps feasible tax rates. In Group D, Elements 15‐16 define some moot possibilities that may warrant further exploration.


This paper shows how previous estimates of rent and land values have been narrowly limited to a fraction of the whole, thus giving a false impression that the tax capacity is low. The paper adds 14 elements to the traditional narrow “single tax” base, plus two moot elements advanced for future consideration. Any one of these 16 elements indicates a much higher land tax base than economists commonly recognize today. Taken together they are overwhelming, and cast an entirely new light on this subject.



Gaffney, M. (2009), "The hidden taxable capacity of land: enough and to spare", International Journal of Social Economics, Vol. 36 No. 4, pp. 328-411.



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Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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