Pre-emptive Capital

May 22, 2007

When I first saw the phrase “pre-emptive capital,” I thought it was some sort of Marxist concept, but actually it seems to originate, at least in its politico-economic sense, with Mason Gaffney’s effort to bring Henry George’s ideas into the modern age.  Pre-emptive capital “serves its owner to preempt common lands. An example is a large, fast, noisy, dangerous, polluting motorboat on a small lake. ” Automobiles, of course, are another example, and Gaffney sees taxing of pre-emptive capital as a way to charge for the pre-emption of commons that such capital enables.

It seems to me that, if we can, we should tax the pre-emptive use rather than the equipment that enables it, but the latter may often be more practical.  And I don’t see that it has to be limited to capital, but could be any kind of wealth.  My use of the commons is lessened by all the cigarette fumes I encounter walking the downtown sidewalks,  but maybe the smokers are paying for this as part of the incredible tax rates imposed on their fuel.

As always, Gaffney’s entire paper is well worth reading, though much of it is a critique of modern Georgists rather than HG, and of the rest much is already standard in our HGS courses.


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