Archive for March, 2008


Unruly Americans

March 30, 2008

Just finished Woody Holton’s Unruly Americans and the Origin of the Constitution.  He’s not the first to point out that the Constitution was established largely to protect the interests of creditors, especially those holding government bonds used to fund the American Rebellion.  Bond speculators benefited, as did all creditors, with the states prohibited from issuing paper money, and a federal court system established. Holton gives relatively little attention to land issues, tho he notes that under the Confederation the cost of using the military to secure western land exceeded the revenue from land sales.

The Constitution provided for significant federal military, which not only protected settlers (and their landlords) from Indians but also could aid in putting down slave rebellions.  Holton notes that, by making debts more enforceable, the Constitution also made credit more available to Americans.  He doesn’t seem to doubt that more debt would be a good thing.  He also seems to think that tariffs were an appropriate source for federal revenue, tho acknowledging that excise taxes, such as on whiskey, could lead to difficulties.  He approvingly notes that higher tariffs allowed the easing of taxes on land.

Henry George, of course, opposed tariffs as a hindrance to trade, and thought government at all levels would best be funded by a tax on the value of land and other natural resources.  And George suggested that a government which does not assist in collection of private debts might discourage excessive lending.

Despite his apparent failure to appreciate such economic fundamentals, Holton’s book is well worth the read for a description of the conditions and methods which brought about the original U S Constitution.  (There is a little discussion of the Bill of Rights, which Holton sees as having been promised as one of the compromises necessary to get an elite-favoring constitution ratified, and even less of the subsequent amendments.)

“No country in the world affords such a field for speculations both in paper and land” as the United States, Noah Webster declared in 1791.  One of the most successful of the speculators was Abigail Adams.   [– page 267]


Bus Rapid Transit and Land Values

March 26, 2008

Network effects seem to be the main impact of bus rapid transit on land values, at least according to a Lincoln-supported study of Bogota, Colombia.  The analysis suggests that an extension of BRT service in 2003 may have had little impact on land prices in the area of the extension, but greatly increased land costs in an area which was already served by BRT previously.   The explanation could be a network effect– as the area served by BRT expands, the value of access to the system also expands.  A 15%- 20% increase in “property” value was found.   Obviously if one were looking only at land value, the percentage would be higher. Also, the data source was asking prices rather than actual transactions.

The study is described here (free registration required, or use bugmenot) , and a more detailed working paper is here (ditto).  The basic finding is that, yes, you can expect to fund transit from a land value tax, and it can be appropriate to use systemwide funding sources to pay for extensions.

I would have said that there is no “bus rapid transit” service in Chicago, but I can’t refute the wikipedia claim that the McCormick Place Busway is BRT.  For regular transit passengers here, however, there are no bus routes which are isolated for any distance from automobiles and other traffic.


At least they spelled the name right

March 20, 2008
I’ve gotten reports from a couple of HGS friends about Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism, which mentions Henry George a couple of times, not in a favorable light. I rarely find it worthwhile to read Goldberg’s columns in the Tribune, so I would hardly waste time reading his book, but I have been lent a copy of it and found two references to Henry George in the index. Read the rest of this entry ?

NAHB report endorses Land Value Tax

March 13, 2008

A new report prepared by a consultant for the National Association of Homebuilders reviews dozens of strategies which have been proposed or used to promote affordable housing.  It points out that an increased tax rate on land values, balanced with decreased taxation of improvements, reduces real estate taxes for most homeowners, while encouraging owners of vacant or underused land to get their land developed, often increasing the supply of housing.

The report also notes that it costs virtually nothing to tax land at a higher rate than improvements.  Examples cited include Harrisburg and Allentown, PA.  Information is from Josh Vincent of the Center for the Study of Economics.

In  Illinois, the Cook County Board could pursue a similar strategy using existing authority to tax land and improvements as two different classes of real estate.  As previously discussed here, the Assessor could take a big step in this direction by just valuing vacant land as prescribed by existing laws and ordinances.


New Census Atlas

March 2, 2008

I just discovered that the U S Census Bureau has issued a new Atlas, which they say is their first since 1925. (The press release is dated January 31, did everyone else already know about this?) It’s downloadable chapter by chapter as pdf’s, which is great since it costs $165 in hardcopy. This is not new data, but a compilation of stuff that was already available, though I suppose many of the maps are newly-prepared.  One might ask why it takes almost eight years after census day to prepare a report, but this one will not.

My favorite section, so far, is Chapter 2 on population distribution. There’s a map showing when each county reached its maximum population. For hundreds, it was more than 50 years ago. Other county-level maps show population changes since 1980. These maps should be persuasive to any rational person who fears that the U. S. is becoming overpopulated. It is unfortunate that the Atlas doesn’t contain tabulations to go with the maps, so I cannot tell you how many counties reached their peak population before 1960, nor by how much the total population of these counties has declined since the peak.


Blocking progress at the FCC

March 2, 2008

Comcast packed an FCC hearing to prevent the public from participating.  Apparently this is routine practice in Washington, and the only news is that Comcast did it at Harvard.  (It is, of course, also routine in Chicago)