New Life for Hyattsville’s Old Idea

Photo of a Henry George cigar mural by .

Photo of a Henry George cigar mural by .

Hyattsville’s 122-year-old idea is back in the news.

Back in 1892, Hyattsville garnered worldwide attention for a short-lived experiment in taxing only land, and not buildings.

The land tax, or “single tax,” was based on an economic theory that taxing buildings discourages developers from making improvements that fell out of favor by the early part of the 20th century.¬†But now it may be making a comeback.

In Quartz, finance professor Noah Smith argues that a land tax would help San Francisco, which is currently embroiled in a dispute over rising home prices:

The policy would bring rents down, and thus encourage tech companies and their brilliant employees to keep moving into the city, to keep interacting and mixing and generating the ideas that make the tech world go. At the same time, it would raise the money the city needs to build better trains, run more bus lines, and build more public housing that will benefit the poor and middle class of San Francisco. And it would do it all in a way that seems much more fair than other kinds of taxation.

The land tax has also been praised by Slate economics blogger Matthew Yglesias, although he argues that zoning restrictions are more to blame for the city’s problems.

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One Response to New Life for Hyattsville’s Old Idea

  1. Chris Currie says:

    Little known modern-Hyattsville fact: our former mayor, Bill Gardiner, did a study in graduate school assessing the likely impact of reinstituting the single tax in Hyattsville. His finding is that it would have a slight positive impact on redevelopment. The reason why it wouldn’t have more impact is that a relatively small share of total property tax goes to the municipality (most going to the County and a small additional portion to the State).

    Pittsburgh is the primary big-city example of single-tax policy. Georgists point to the city as a model of how land-value taxation can lead to dense urban development and vibrant downtowns. However, Pittsburgh in recent years switched to dual taxation — for complicated reasons that I don’t recall.

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