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Pre-emptive Capital

Mason Gaffney: Full Employment, Growth And Progress On A Small Planet: Relieving Poverty While Healing The Earth

2. Taxing “preemptive” capital. Some capital serves its owner to preempt common lands. An example is a large, fast, noisy, dangerous, polluting motorboat on a small lake. Thousands of small lakes would in effect be made larger, in terms of satisfying human wants, by taxing or banning such craft.

A more common example is the preemption of space on streets and highways by vehicles. Many modern Georgists have a blind spot here.

  • They recognize the wisdom of parking meters, and see them as an example of applied Georgism.
  • They have more trouble seeing that moving vehicles also occupy scarce, valuable public space, and should pay for it. The Georgist tradition is to see things that move as productive, and to avoid hindering them. It is a good reflex, a needed antidote to the more general bias of our tax systems and other institutions to “shoot anything that moves.”

In this case, though, the moving vehicle actually preempts even more space than the parked one, and needs to be constrained.

The problems are formidable of designing optimal taxes on and controls over moving vehicles; and even moreso when we see them in holistic terms, as part of recasting our whole approach to mass transportation, and integrating it with massive reforms of land settlement patterns. Those are, however, the modern problems we should address. In doing so, we can do no better than think of ourselves as applying George’s principle that land – space on the surface of the earth – is common property.

Offroad vehicles are another obvious example. Part of our great secular superstition about property is the notion that a piece of capital equipment is as sacred as, or more sacred than persons themselves: that the vehicle endows its owner with more rights to public space than the simple possession of two legs. This may hark back to centuries of deference to mounted warriors, but is also encouraged today by merchants who see motorists as bearing more cash than pedestrians. Above all, those who foster this attitude are the makers and sellers of vehicles, fuels, and paving materials.

Surfboards make another example, but once one gets the basic idea, one can furnish scores of additional examples of preemptive capital. To tax such capital is, in effect, to tax the grabbing of common lands by the owners of the capital. Sometimes regulation or banning is the better choice, depending on particulars, but the principle is Georgist: recognize land as common property, and take measures to assert that common ownership. ... read the whole article


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Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper