A response to Henry George and the Lunar Society

I recently completed listening to this long and good interview of Lars Doucet on the Lunar Society Podcast – it aroused many strong feelings, so I thought I would share.

In no particular order

  • The problem with Georgism is the Georgists. To mix adages, the Georgist argument would be more convincing if they had more skin in the game and climbed Chesterton’s Fence. Why has the single tax on land been on the shelf for the past 100 years? Why do we have these other taxes? Explain!
  • A common problem in rationalism (and adjacent ideologies) is the inability to effectively understand and address the concerns of people ten years younger or older than the rationalist.
  • The soul of man does not contain a hole in the shape of high density living. People like the benefits, but density for the sake of density is not an inherent drive. A lot of Georgism seems to take that for granted.
  • Doucet presumes effective urban governance. Does Georgism make made sense with 70s level urban decay and state capacity?
  • The use of video game evidence creates a strong counter reaction in me.
  • Doucet takes the notion of “Rent” as a given -and provides no evidence that landlords do not compete the rent away in some form or fashion, or lose the rent in maintenance and improvements. Or if he did present compelling evidence I missed it.
  • The notion that the rentiers (to use Piketty’s term) do not contribute anything seems wrong. Why won’t the land owners just coordinate to increase the value of the property and increase overall prosperity via network effects? Seemingly the landowners would coordinate to bring productive labor and capital to their properties.
  • Why has no one, in any country, ever, tried a single tax on land? Sorry, but Norwegian oil isn’t similar enough. Come to think of it – how similar is it to land valuation in the age of serfdom?
  • Doucet does not provide any reason that a tax on land would necessarily displace ANY other form of taxation. He presents the land tax as just an additional tax.
  • Doucet should provide some explanation for why he should tax land rent and not educational/human capital rent. He alludes to the concept early in the conversation and does not adequately answer the question.

The list makes it seem like I’m more critical than I am – the topic fully engaged me and I will be reading the book at some point in the near future.

One Comment

  • Dwarkesh Patel

    Thanks so much for putting together this list of thoughts! I think many of these are very good points

    Especially about whether money raised by LVT wouldn’t be squandered by broken urban governments, and about why no country has had just a single LVT.

    Doucet does address the math of whether LVT can replace all other taxes in his book – if I failed to bring it up in the interview, that one is my fault :_