Land Value Tax

Here’s an interesting post about the feasibility of a Land Value Tax in the UK. It’s a pretty obvious idea, though not one I’d happened upon before. This snippet gets to the heart of it, I think:

10. The cost of local services should be paid for by user charges, i.e. a Poll Tax.

Wrong. It is more important to look at the value of what the landowner gets (as reflected in land values) than the cost of local services. Having more policeman on the beat reduces crime, cuts a household’s home and car insurance bills and makes an area more attractive, thus boosting selling prices. Having lots of five-a-day advisors and environmental-awareness-officers costs just as much but adds no value whatsoever.

The argument is that any benefit you derive from local services will be reflected in the value of your land; if you get free massages from the local authority, and that’s something that people want, then the value of your land will rise (as will the land tax, thereby paying for those massages). The counter-argument is also in there; ‘five-a-day advisors’ (I assume the author is referring to healthy eating campaigns) may be the single best thing a local authority could do for its residents, but if it’s not seen to be a desirable benefit then there will be no corresponding increase in land values to help pay for it.

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Retail, then Therapy

The noted shoulder-shrugger (by birth and profession) Jean-Paul Sartre, famously said “Hell is other people”. The phrase was first published in the 1944 play ‘Huis Clos’. I respectfully submit that if he’d been to the Croydon Ikea he’d have said it much earlier.

Fewer Helicopters

Yesterday I talked about the strange system we have for converting large quantities of natural resources into small quantities of amusement. Today, a solution!

OK, not really. I don’t think anyone has a solution, or rather I don’t think anyone knows they have a solution (using ‘know’ to indicate fact, rather than internal certainty). But as this is partially a result of the free market, it only seems fair to let the market have a crack at solving it. A good start would be a tax on pollution, which would affect extractive industries among others. Now I’d support this on general environmental grounds, but putting that argument aside there are real costs involved in pollution that are currently paid by society rather than by the people causing those costs.

So how does that solve the problem? Well it doesn’t, it just changes the problem. Assuming that China levies this tax directly, but lowers other taxes to compensate, it pushes manufacturers to save a little on raw materials, perhaps by employing more people to control waste. If China doesn’t enact the tax but the importing countries do (which I’d guess is less likely) then we have a direct incentive not to consume so much, and China is still pushed to use fewer resources. Either way the stupidity of the current system is tempered, without forcing a negative impact on the average worker.

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Chinese Helicopters

In an earlier post I discussed the trade in trivialities that fills containers between China and the rest of the world. I noted that the natural reflex might be to stop buying such things, but to do so would abandon those people who depend on that trade for their living (indeed, their lives). Marty further pointed out that it’s an amazing ‘system’ that lets someone live from a trade that means almost nothing to us (Marty is, it should be noted, something of a fan of free markets).

And so to my final point, that it’s a depressingly inefficient system based on hidden costs. For the crappy helicopter I mentioned, the sequence goes like this, based on the world’s biggest producers for raw materials:

Iron ore for the body of the helicopter) retrieved from Australia (or, if we’re lucky, China).
Oil (for plastic rotor and paint) retrieved from Saudi Arabia.
Both shipped to China.
Toy produced in China.
Toy shipped to the West for sale.

That’s a total of 12,000 miles of shipping to China, and another 6,000 to the US or 12,000 to Europe. And that doesn’t include transport within countries, which could easily reach another 3,000 miles in the US. That’s a lot of miles, with a lot of pollution, just so that my son can have a cheap helicopter and a labourer can earn a fraction of a dollar.

Tomorrow: I try to think of an alternative.

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Consumer Waste and Cognitive Dissonance

It’s my son’s birthday today, and while we tend to get good middle-class people’s presents (lego, books, etc) we’re not immune to the lure of cheap plastic/die-cast crap. So he’s currently playing with a battleship complete with ‘realistic’ jet aircraft (not that any of them could realistically land on a battleship, but he doesn’t seem concerned with that).

Whenever I see tat like this, particularly on those unhappy occasions when we buy happy meals with their uber-crap, I wonder about the people who make them. I’ve only worked for three manufacturing companies, and two of those were beer and steel, which are practically staples. But the third was clothing, where taste was involved, and I often speculated on exactly what taste was being exercised as a tacky shell-suit or size 24 skimpy nightie passed through my hands.

Imagine, then, how much more puzzling it must be for someone who is working slave-like hours for negligible pay to attach a flimsy plastic rotor to a badly cast toy helicopter that a child somewhere will play with for 11 seconds before losing it in the car on the way back from McDoughBoys. Imagine how much more disconcerting it must be when the worker is a child who can see the fun inherent in that toy, even as they lack the imagination or experience to see the crushing desperateness of their situation.

There is no conclusion to this little rant. Not buying these gee-gaws might take that child out of the factory, but it’s more likely they’ll end up combing trash piles than attending school, so trying to make a little difference may be worse than meaningless without making a big difference too. I guess you get to decide.

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