Sunday, June 18, 2006

Environmental Activism

The environmental movement is flawed in one major respect: It needs to start thinking about a paradigm shift and not the current marketing of “living a green lifestyle”.

However, this is not as hard as it sounds, in fact it fairly simple. We need to tax the rents from land, otherwise known as the Land Value Tax (LVT).

For the ecological economics movement the LVT is a perfect dovetail. It does everything that the environmentalists want and for economists it is extremely efficient and fair.

How will taxing land effect the environmentalist movement?

  • Many of the problems associated with the environment are a failure to capture the rent generated by such activities. For example, polluting in a river, while beneficial to the factory causes harm to anyone who wants to use the river. If we, as a society, charged that firm a “rent” for fair use of the river and used that rent for either A.) clean up or B.) distributed those rents to the population, the firm would voluntarily lower its own pollution levels.
  • Suburbanization: As our communities sprawl further away from the city center and become less dense, the human generated pollution goes up, such as car emissions, and polluted water run off which then finds its way into our aquifers.

However, suburbanization has other costs as well (and benefits). For example, the deer which populate the Westchester / Putnam / Dutchess county areas of New York and causes thousands of traffic accidents each year is a direct result of suburbanization. The huge sprawling lawns of the suburbanites provide for easy soft grass to chew on in the dark of night. The added traffic accidents each year of the daily commute back and forth to the city center is another overlooked cost of suburbanization. The roads which need to get paved, power lines which need to get run, and sewer lines which need to get dug become more costly per person and inflict both environmental and fiscal costs on each person in the community. A road, after all, is not a very productive piece of land.

  • Our fisheries and common grazing areas: both of these suffer from the same problem, people and firms will overuse the resource until the resource can no longer replenish itself. If we charged an accurate annual rent for fishing rights (or grazing), and allowed those rights to be fully tradable, fishermen and cattlemen would no longer overuse the resource.
  • Instead of paying out subsidies to farmers not to farm, instead, taxing the land itself and NOT the capital on the land farmers will be able to accurately determine which fields to plant and which are best left to Mother Nature. This will save the government time, money and resources and lowering our overall tax burden. The set-a-side program was made with good intentions; however it has had the opposite effect in many areas.
  • Crop subsidies: Instead of paying crop subsidies to farmers, a land tax will allow farmers to accurately determine how much of which crop to most efficiently grow where. Our lust for corn subsidies and from it the high fructose corn syrup is a direct cause of our obesity epidemic.
  • Small farmers will benefit: Small farms will be rewarded for being good stewards of the land and for having high capital to land ratios while those who are using the land for speculation will need to pay for that privilege.
  • Mining operations: Mining will become more eco friendly as they will attempt to leave the land as nature intended, or even improve it from when it was found.
  • The list does not end here. These few things are only a very small fraction of the positive effects of implementing the LVT.

You say, this sounds great, what do I do? Write your congressmen and ask them if they support LVT reform and help me compile a list of potential allies