It is a symptom of becoming a land tax groupie, that one gains a completely new perspective on the news. To me it is now so obvious, that the current brouhaha about PFI, the UK?s lousy work/life balance, crumbling infrastructure , the pensions bomb and ongoing social disintegration, are the result of being ground down between the twin millstones of a feudal land ownership structure and a post-eighties American style market economy, a process LVT could reverse with extraordinary speed. Why don?t UK policy makers ?get it?! However I am increasingly confident that they soon will. For as the consensus grows for greater social justice and a lighter tax burden, the penny will drop. With a reconstructed House of Lords, those new great weapons of the people, the Internet and email, a burning popular thirst for history and a post 9/11 re-evaluation of community, frankly, we have never had a better time to sell land value taxation. Carpe diem!
My own damascene conversion to the land tax debate occurred three years ago, when living in a small East Lothian coastal town, I saw city folk sleeping overnight in their BMWs, queuing up to buy six figure executive housing being spat up on a town centre beauty spot, just sold by the laird. Timing is all, so the laird, developers ( and the council) all cleaned up nicely, while the local community whose efforts had imbued the field with its value, naturally received nothing. In fact worse than nothing. While the laird was able to send his grandchildren to Ampleforth, classes in the local primary school shot up to 36, against government guidelines, racism against incoming English worsened and our small high street choked with stressed, mega-mortgaged professionals fighting for parking. I wrote about this in my Scotland on Sunday column and was secretly hailed as a hero and duly cut by the laird?s wife happily patronising punters at the post office.
Perhaps had I not moved to the country, I would never have realised what power landowners exert on the State and LVT would have remained a mystery. For while the number and value of acres owned by urban landowners remains largely unchallenged outside feudal central London and unlegislated against, country landowners are more visible and I have seen at first hand, how beautifully they bamboozle the urban national press into believing they are stewards of the nation?s heritage . Hence how little comment there was about the creepy, sinister nature of the recent Countryside March. Organisers could not put together a coherent platform of speakers, of course they couldn?t! Yet, in a parody of olde worlde rotten borough politics, they doled out free tube tickets to crowds who did not connect that these paymasters were the reason for rural housing poverty in the first place. When it comes to avoiding transparency, the Enrons of this world are babes in arms in comparison.
So it is time to make these connections, not least to the constituency who have most to gain from LVT, the principal victims of the current twin evils of the tax system and land ownership patterns - young people.
With some justice, Fred Harrison argues that land reform and land value taxation are too often intertwined, that it doesn?t matter how many acres landowner possess as long as they pay their full value to the community. In theory, he?s right. LVT would inexorably cause unproductive land to be sold off to those able to make it pay. Yet this does not acknowledge the spiritual scarring for example, in Scotland, detailed so well by Alastair McIntosh in ?Soil & Soul? where 1250 families own 66% of the land, resulting in an ongoing mental crippling of young people. Some months ago, it was revealed that the suicide rate in Scotland for young men is now double that of England & Wales. Intuitively, who can deny this is one effect of such historic emasculation? This is at the extreme. But for years I have talked to business groups across Scotland and their main concern never varies - where is the entrepreneurial spirit of our young people? Where are the start-ups, the so-called ?gazelles? which create employment? It is an economic given that entrepreneurship, not to mention a healthy birth rate, are two effects of easy access to land, so much so, I even succeeded in making the Scottish Chairman of the Country Landowners Federation admit that, Scotland?s land-owning pattern probably does have a bearing on its lamentable lack of business chutzpah - even though Scots have blazed a trail world-wide for centuries.
So pace, Fred, land value taxation should at least be thrown onto Scotland?s land reform fire, at present under severe threat by the landowners? lobbyists. It frightens the socks off them, for they know the middle classes might finally wake up. I am grateful to Ron Banks for his estimate that a move to LVT in Scotland would deliver ?18.97bn - not much less than Scotland?s Block Grant, and without the Dead Weight Loss of foregone economic activity of the current tax system, which he estimates at a whopping ?48.5bn!
Yet young people suffer across the UK. Ron estimates the DWL of the present tax system of ?881bn, nearly equivalent to the value of the whole UK economy and which interestingly mirrors the current UK personal debt mountain borne by mule citizens buckling under mortgages, largely created by the land value monopoly. So should we be surprised by the revelation in the latest Census, that 600,000 young men have gone abroad and not come back? Can you blame them when all they can expect here is a lifetime of debt and high taxes, with 99.9% of the population squashed onto less than 9% of the UK land mass, according to ?Who Owns Britain? author Kevin Cahill? No, young men need room to breathe and breed.
Unless the LVT is introduced, with its virtuous effects on our post-feudal land ownership patterns, there will continue to be painful Pied Piper loss to our nation. Sad for parents everywhere. As I send off my tax return and pay a typical Scottish Council Tax of ?2,160p.a., I live with the knowledge that unless these arguments prevail, the chances of my two own children bringing up their own families on this island, let alone anywhere near my sought after postcode, are close to zero.
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