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Land value taxation (LVT) (or site value taxation) is an ad valorem tax on the value of land. This ignores buildings, improvements, and personal property. Because of this, LVT is different from other property taxes on real estate — the combination of land, buildings, and improvements to land. Every jurisdiction that has a real estate property tax has an element of land value tax, because land value contributes to overall property value.[1]


Economic effects



A supply and demand diagram showing the effects of land value taxation. If the supply of land is fixed, the burden of the tax will fall entirely on the land owner with no deadweight loss.

Most taxes distort economic decisions.[2] If labor, buildings or machinery and plants are taxed, people are dissuaded from constructive and beneficial activities, and enterprise and efficiency are penalized due to the excess burden of taxation. This does not apply to LVT, which is payable regardless of whether or how well the land is actually used, because the supply of land is inelastic, market land rents depend on what tenants are prepared to pay, rather than on the expenses of landlords, and so LVT cannot be passed on to tenants.[3] The only direct effect of LVT on prices is to lower the market price of land. Put another way, LVT is often said to be justified for economic reasons because if it is implemented properly, it will not deter production, distort market mechanisms or otherwise create deadweight losses the way other taxes do.[4] Nobel Prize winner William Vickrey believed that "removing almost all business taxes, including property taxes on improvements, excepting only taxes reflecting the marginal social cost of public services rendered to specific activities, and replacing them with taxes on site values, would substantially improve the economic efficiency of the jurisdiction."[5] A correlation between the use of LVT at the expense of traditional property taxes and greater market efficiency is predicted by economic theory, and has been observed in practice.[6]

Proponents, such as Fred Foldvary, state that the necessity to pay the tax encourages landowners to develop vacant and underused land properly or to make way for others who will. Their claim is that because LVT deters speculative land holding, dilapidated inner city areas are returned to productive use, reducing the pressure to build on undeveloped sites and so reducing urban sprawl.[7] For example Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in the United States has taxed land at a rate six times that on improvements since 1975, and this policy has been credited by its long time mayor, Stephen R. Reed with reducing the number of vacant structures in downtown Harrisburg from about 4,200 in 1982 to less than 500. LVT is an ecotax because it ostensibly discourages the waste of locations, which are a finite natural resource.[8][9][10]

Some critics state that LVT does create dead-weight loss. They claim that though the overall supply of land is fixed, the available supply is not, and that the price of land is driven by its marginal productivity like any other commodity. As a result they believe that taxing land specifically will be distortionary, for example causing more building than is rational.

Another criticism is that a land value tax forces people to devote land to its most productive use in order to be able to afford the tax, even if they want to use it for a less productive use. For example, a private park in the middle of a city may generate negligible return, and others may want to buy it to build a factory or offices on it. If a Land Value Tax was implemented, the park owner would have to be prepared to pay the costs of leaving the park undeveloped and might be unable to do so.

Real estate values

Critics warn that a rapid reduction of real estate values could have profoundly negative effects on banks and other financial institutions whose asset portfolios are dominated by real estate mortgage debt, and could thus threaten the stability of the whole financial system.[11]

Real estate bubbles direct savings towards rent seeking activities rather than other investments, and can contribute to recessions which damage the entire economy. Advocates of the land tax claim that it reduces the speculative element in land pricing, thereby leaving more money for productive capital investment and making the economy more stable.[12]

If the value to landowners were reduced to zero or near zero by recovering effectively all its rent, total privately held asset values could decline as the land value element was stripped out, representing a shift in apparent private sector wealth but which is in fact a paper value only. Most LVT advocates support a gradual shift to avoid disrupting the economy, and argue that the reduction in private rent collection would result in increased net wages received from employment and asset growth from entrepreneurial activity.


There are several practical issues involved in the implementation of a land value tax. Most notably, it needs to be:

  • Calculated fairly and accurately,
  • High enough to raise sufficient revenue without causing land abandonment, and
  • Billed to the correct person.


In theory, levying a Land Value Tax is straightforward, requiring only a valuation of the land and a register of the identities of the landholders. There is no need for the tax payers to deal with complicated forms or to give up personal information as with an income tax. Because land cannot be hidden, removed to a tax haven or concealed in an electronic data system,[13] the tax can not be evaded.

However, critics point out that determining the value of land can be difficult in practice. In a 1796 United States Supreme Court opinion, Justice William Paterson noted that leaving the valuation process up to assessors would cause numerous bureaucratic complexities, as well as non-uniform assessments due to imperfect policies and their interpretations.[14] Austrian School economist Murray Rothbard later raised similar concerns, stating that no government can fairly assess value, which can only be determined by a free market.[15]

When compared to modern day property tax evaluations, valuations of land involve fewer variables and have smoother gradients than valuations that include improvements. This is due to variation of building style, quality and size between lots. Modern computerization and statistical techniques have eased the process; in the 1960s and 1970s, multivariate analysis was introduced as a method of assessing land.[16]

Land value for LVT purposes is assessed using market evidence. Such evidence may comprise both selling prices and rentals. Where development already exists on a site, the value of the site can be discovered by various means, of which the most easily understood is the residual method: the value of the site is the total value of the property minus the depreciated value of buildings and other structures.

The valuation process commences with a measurement of the most and least valuable land within the taxation area. A few sites of intermediate value are then identified and used as "landmark" values. Other values are filled in between the landmark values. The data is then collated on a database and linked to a unique property reference number,[17] "smoothed" and mapped using a geographical information system (GIS). The initial valuation is the most difficult; once the system is in use, successive valuations become easier.

Sufficiency of revenue

In this case, land is taxed at 100% of its value, eliminating the landowner surplus completely. Land tax revenues cannot be raised beyond this point.

In the context of land value taxation as a single tax (replacing all other taxes), some have argued that LVT alone cannot raise large enough revenues.[18] Most modern LVT systems are alongside other taxes, and thus only reduce their impact without removing them completely. In a case or event where a jurisdiction attempted to levy a land tax that was higher than the entire landowner surplus, it would result in the abandonment of property by those who would be paying and a sharp decline in tax revenue.[19]

Requires clear ownership

In some countries, LVT is nearly impossible to implement because of lack of certainty regarding land titles and clearly established land ownership and tenure. If the government can not accurately define ownership boundaries and ascertain the proper owner, it cannot know from whom to collect the tax. The phenomena of lack of clear titles is found worldwide in developing countries[20] and is in part the subject of the work of the Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto. In African countries with imperfect land registration, boundaries may be poorly surveyed, the landlord can be elusive and significantly more difficult to tax than occupants, but most governments require that tax collectors track owners down nonetheless so that the burden of the tax does not fall on the poor.[21]


In religious terms, it has been claimed that land is a common gift to all of mankind.[22] For example, the Catholic Church as part of its "Universal Destination" principle asserts:

Everyone knows that the Fathers of the Church laid down the duty of the rich toward the poor in no uncertain terms. As St. Ambrose put it: "You are not making a gift of what is yours to the poor man, but you are giving him back what is his. You have been appropriating things that are meant to be for the common use of everyone. The earth belongs to everyone, not to the rich."[23]

Pope Paul VI, Populorum Progressio

Land acquires a scarcity value owing to the competing needs of the community for living, working and leisure space. According to proponents,[24] the unimproved value of land owes nothing to the individual efforts of the landowner and everything to the community at large. These supporters suggest that the value of land belongs justly and uniquely to the community.

LVT is also purported to act as value capture tax.[25] A new public works project may make adjacent land go up considerably in value, and thus, with a tax on land values, the tax on adjacent land goes up. Thus, the new public improvements would be paid for by those most benefited by the new public improvements — those whose land value went up most.



Land value taxation has ancient roots, tracing back to after the introduction of agriculture. One of the oldest forms of taxation, it was originally based on crop yield. This early version of the tax required simply sharing the yield at the time of the harvest, akin to paying a yearly rent.[26]


Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, one of the leading physiocrats.

The physiocrats were a group of economists who believed that the wealth of nations was derived solely from the value of land agriculture or land development. Physiocracy is considered one of the "early modern" schools of economics. Physiocrats called for the abolition of all existing taxes, completely free trade, and a single tax on land;[27] they did not distinguish, however, between intrinsic value of land and ground rent.[28] Their theories originated in France and were most popular during the second half of the 18th century. The movement was particularly dominated by Anne Robert Jacques Turgot (1727–1781) and François Quesnay (1694–1774).[29] It immediately preceded the first modern school, classical economics, which began with the publication of Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations in 1776. The Physiocrats were also highly influential in the early history of land value taxation in the United States.

Thomas Paine contended in his Agrarian Justice pamphlet that all citizens should be paid 15 pounds at age 21 "as a compensation in part for the loss of his or her natural inheritance by the introduction of the system of landed property." This proposal was the origin of the citizen's dividend advocated by Geolibertarianism.

Classical economists

It was Adam Smith, in his book The Wealth of Nations, who first rigorously analyzed the effects of a land value tax, pointing out how it would not hurt economic activity, and how it would not raise land rents.

Ground-rents are a still more proper subject of taxation than the rent of houses. A tax upon ground-rents would not raise the rents of houses. It would fall altogether upon the owner of the ground-rent, who acts always as a monopolist, and exacts the greatest rent which can be got for the use of his ground. More or less can be got for it according as the competitors happen to be richer or poorer, or can afford to gratify their fancy for a particular spot of ground at a greater or smaller expense. In every country the greatest number of rich competitors is in the capital, and it is there accordingly that the highest ground-rents are always to be found. As the wealth of those competitors would in no respect be increased by a tax upon ground-rents, they would not probably be disposed to pay more for the use of the ground. Whether the tax was to be advanced by the inhabitant, or by the owner of the ground, would be of little importance. The more the inhabitant was obliged to pay for the tax, the less he would incline to pay for the ground; so that the final payment of the tax would fall altogether upon the owner of the ground-rent.

Adam Smith , The Wealth of Nations, Book V, Chapter 2, Article I: Taxes upon the Rent of Houses


Henry George in 1865.

Henry George (September 2, 1839 – October 29, 1897) was perhaps the most famous advocate of land rents. An American journalist, politician and political economist, he advocated a "Single Tax" on land that would eliminate the need for all other taxes. In 1879 he authored Progress and Poverty, which significantly influenced land taxation in the United States.

Liberal and Labour Parties in the United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, LVT was an important part of the platform of the Liberal Party during the early part of the twentieth century: David Lloyd George and H. H. Asquith proposed "to free the land that from this very hour is shackled with the chains of feudalism."[30] It was also advocated by Winston Churchill early in his career.[31] The modern Liberal Party (not to be confused with the Liberal Democrats, which are the larger heir to the earlier Liberal Party) remains committed to a local form of land value taxation,[32] as do the Green Party of England and Wales[33] and the Scottish Green Party.[34]

From its early years, and until just after the Second World War, there was strong support for land value taxation within the Labour Party. The Member of Parliament Andrew MacLaren was a consistent and vocal advocate. The 1931 Labour budget included a land value tax, but before it came into force it was repealed by the Conservative-dominated National Government that followed shortly after.

An attempt at introducing site value taxation in the administrative County of London was made by the local authority under the leadership of Herbert Morrison in the 1938–9 Parliament, called the London Rating (Site Values) Bill. Although it failed, it sets out detailed legislation for the implementation of a system of land value taxation using annual value assessment.[35]

After 1945, the Labour Party adopted the policy, against the opposition of a substantial body of MPs, of attempting to collect "development value": the increase in land price arising from planning consent. This was one of the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act 1947 and it was repealed when the Labour government lost power in 1951.

Existing tax systems

A comprehensive and detailed survey of land value taxation around the world was published in 2001.[36]


The state of New South Wales levies a state land value tax. However unlike council rates, farmland and a person's principal place of residence are generally exempt and the state tax is only levied on value over a certain threshold. In New South Wales determination of land value, for tax purposes at a state and local level, is the responsibility of the Valuer-General. [1] The cities of Sydney, Canberra, and others in Australia use LVT. An in-depth study under the Chairmanship of Sir Gordon Chalk issued a report[37] in 1986 on the subject of local taxation for the city of Brisbane, Queensland. The report, which examined many alternative means of local finance, sets out comprehensive and concise arguments for LVT.

By revenue, property taxes represent 4.5% of total taxation in Australia.[2]

Hong Kong

Hong Kong is perhaps the best modern example of the successful implementation of a high LVT. The Hong Kong government generates more than 35% of its revenue from land taxes.[38] Because of this, they can keep their other taxes rates low or non-existent and still generate a budget surplus.

United States

Land value taxes are used in various jurisdictions of the United States, particularly in the state of Pennsylvania.

Other countries

Pure LVT, apart from real estate or generic property taxation, is used in Taiwan, Singapore, and Estonia.

Several cities around the world also use LVT (eg. see Australia, above). It has also been used in Mexicali, Mexico.[39]

Countries with active discussion


Since the turn of the new century, with devolution and the re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament, there has been interest and political pressure in Scotland to introduce land value taxation.

In February 1998 the pre-devolution UK government in Scotland (the Scottish Office) launched a far-reaching public consultation process on the broad question of land reform.[40] A survey of the record of the public response found that: “excluding the responses of the lairds and their agents, reckoned as likely prejudiced against the measure, 20% of all responses favoured the land tax” (12% in grand total, without the exclusions).[41] The government responded by announcing “a comprehensive economic evaluation of the possible impact of moving to a land value taxation basis”.[42] However, in a welter of published Land Reform Action Plans, concrete, positive public outcomes failed to materialise.[43]

In 2000 the Parliament’s Local Government Committee[44] held an inquiry into local government finance. Its terms of reference explicitly included land value taxation[45] but the Committee’s final report did not comment on the system.[46]

In 2003 the Scottish Parliament passed a resolution: “That the Parliament notes recent studies by the Scottish Executive and is interested in building on them by considering and investigating the contribution that land value taxation could make to the cultural, economic, environmental and democratic renaissance of Scotland.”[47]

In 2004 a letter of support was sent from a group of members of the Scottish Parliament to the organisers and delegates of the IU’s 24th international conference being held in Madrid—signed by members of the Scottish Green, Socialist and Nationalist parties.[48]

The policy was considered in 2006 by banker Sir Peter Burt’s government-appointed Scottish Local Government Finance Review. The Review’s 2007 Report[49] concludes that “although land value taxation meets a number of our criteria, we question whether the public would accept the upheaval involved in radical reform of this nature, unless they could clearly understand the nature of the change and the benefits involved…. We considered at length the many positive features of a land value tax which are consistent with our recommended local property tax [LPT], particularly its progressive nature.” However, “[h]aving considered both rateable value and land value as the basis for taxation, we concur with Layfield [UK Committee of Inquiry, 1976)] who recommended that any local property tax should be based on capital values.”[50]

In 2009, Glasgow City Council resolved that it wished to introduce a tax based on land values: “the idea could become the blueprint for Scotland’s future local taxation”[51] The Council has agreed[52] a “long term move to a local property tax / land value tax hybrid tax”: its Local Taxation Working Group also states that simple [non-hybrid] land value taxation should itself “not be discounted as an option for local taxation reform: it potentially holds many benefits and addresses many existing concerns”.[53]

United Kingdom

At their 2009 party conference, Lib Dem Treasury Spokesperson Vince Cable announced an intention to place a tax on properties worth in excess of £1million.[54] This was met with mixed response, with some in the party being critical whilst some media commentators were positive.[55][56] Cable himself defended the plan.[57] However since the proposed tax was to be levied on the combined value of the land and the building erected upon it only when there was a building and only when that building was a house, it was not a land value tax.[58] The Liberal Democrats "Alter" (Action for land taxation and economic reform) exists

to improve the understanding of and support for Land Value Taxation amongst members of the Liberal Democrats; to encourage all Liberal Democrats to promote and campaign for this policy as part of a more sustainable and just resource based economic system in which no one is enslaved by poverty; and to cooperate with other bodies, both inside and outside the Liberal Democrat Party, who share these objectives.[59]

Course in "Economics with Justice" [60] with a strong foundation in LVT are offered at the School of Economic Science, which has historical links with the Henry George Foundation [61].

Other countries

Land value taxation is currently at some stage of being introduced in Kenya,[62][63] Namibia and other countries. China's Real Rights Law contains fundamental provisions founded on a land value taxation analysis.[64]

Policy interest elsewhere

In the Republic of Ireland the recently adopted Programme for Government includes the commitment that "we will move to introduce a Site Valuation Tax for non-agricultural land". In Zimbabwe, government coalition partners the Movement for Democratic Change has land value taxation as its policy.[65] Since 2000, there have been political expressions of interest in the policy and analysis in Belgium,[66] Ethiopia,[63] Republic of South Africa[63] and other countries. The governments of Thailand[67] and Hungary[68] have shown some sympathy with the policy.

There are local campaigns to introduce it in many other countries, including South Korea and the United Kingdom (where a broad assembly of independent and politically-aligned groups[69] advocate and advance the case for land value taxation[70].) The IU works internationally and at the United Nations in support of the policy. In 1990, several economists wrote[71] to then President Mikhail Gorbachev suggesting that Russia use Land Value Taxation in its transition towards a free market economy: its failure to do so has been argued as causal in the rise of the Oligarchs.[72]



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  2. ^ Coughlin (1999) p.263-4
  3. ^ Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations Book V, Chapter 2, Part 2, Article I: Taxes upon the Rent of Houses
  4. ^ McCluskey, William J.; Franzsen, Riël C. D. (2005), Land Value Taxation: An Applied Analysis, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., p. 4, ISBN 0754614905,,M1  
  5. ^ Vickrey, William. "The Corporate Income Tax in the U.S. Tax System, 73 TAX NOTES 597, 603(1996)
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  45. ^ Monday 13th November, 2000,
  46. ^ Scottish Parliament, Local Government Committee, 6th Report 2002, Report on Inquiry into Local Government Finance
  47. ^ Minutes of Proceedings, Meeting of the Parliament, motion S1M-3818, 30th January 2003
  48. ^ ”Scotland is in the throes of releasing itself from the shackles of a historical inheritance of landed privilege…. On a global scale, the failure to share equitably the value of our common birthrights can grow awful grievances, which bring terrible consequences, such as was visited upon your host city [eleven weeks earlier]…. [W]e must make practical changes to our social systems. We believe that the taxing of land values will be a key policy reform for the twenty-first century. Scotland must adopt it…” Letter dated (fax) the 29th of May, signed by members Mark Ballard, Robin Harper, Shiona Baird, Mark Ruskell, Chris Balance, Eleanor Scott, Patrick Harvie, Rosie Kane, Rosemary Byrne, and Rob Gibson
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  50. ^ see 'SLGFR news: a fairer way’, ‘‘Land&Liberty’’, vol. 112, no. 1216, winter 2006-7
  51. ^ Maddox, David (2009-06-26), "Scotland's biggest city backs plan to replace council tax", The Scotsman,  
  52. ^ Print 3, 2009-10
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  54. ^
  55. ^
  56. ^
  57. ^
  58. ^
  59. ^
  60. ^
  61. ^
  62. ^
  63. ^ a b c [ "The pioneers of the New African Age"]. Land&Liberty (London: Henry George Foundation) 115 (1223). 2009-01-18. ISSN 0023-7574. Retrieved 2009-08-20.  
  64. ^ [ "China: private property, common resources"]. Land&Liberty (London: Henry George Foundation) 114 (1218). summer 2008. ISSN 0023-7574. Retrieved 2009-08-20.  
  65. ^ [ "Blessed be the land of Zimbabwe, etc"]. Land&Liberty (London: Henry George Foundation) 115 (1222). 2008-08-29. ISSN 0023-7574. Retrieved 2009-08-20.  
  66. ^ [ "Belgian overhaul"]. Land&Liberty (London: Henry George Foundation) 116 (1224). 2009-07-26. ISSN 0023-7574. Retrieved 2009-08-20.  
  67. ^ [ "Thai tax"]. Land&Liberty (London: Henry George Foundation) 115 (1222). 2008-08-29. ISSN 0023-7574. Retrieved 2009-08-20.  
  68. ^ [ "Property tax goulash"]. Land&Liberty (London: Henry George Foundation) 114 (1219). 2007-09-04. ISSN 0023-7574. Retrieved 2009-08-20.  
  69. ^ Many active organisations are partners in the Coalition for Economic Justice
  70. ^ see, for instance,
  71. ^ Wikisource:Open letter to Mikhail Gorbachev (1990)
  72. ^ "Standard Schaefer: An Interview with Michael Hudson on Putin's Russia". CounterPunch. Retrieved 2009-02-13.  


  • Coughlin, J. Anthony. "Land Value Taxation and Constitutional Uniformity", Geo. Mason L. Rev., Winter 1999, Vol. 7, No. 2


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