Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Death Of Mason Gaffney (University Of California, Riverside)

New York Times:  Mason Gaffney, Who Argued for Taxing Only Land, Dies at 96, by David Cay Johnston:

GaffneyMason Gaffney [personal website] ... went on to become an academic economist who for decades led the Georgist movement, which promotes taxing only land as the most effective, efficient and environmentally sound way to finance government.

Professor Gaffney died at 96 on July 16 at Loma Linda University Medical Center, not far from the University of California, Riverside, where he taught economics for 37 years. ...

Taxing land is less intrusive than taxing income or estates, Professor Gaffney taught, drawing on Henry George’s influential 1879 book, Progress and Poverty: An Inquiry Into the Cause of Industrial Depressions and of Increase of Want With Increase of Wealth: The Remedy, reportedly the best-selling popular book in America in the 1890s.

Professor Gaffney and other Georgists maintained that taxing land, but not buildings, would encourage property owners to erect high-quality structures and improve existing ones. The property-tax system in place today imposes more taxes when a room is added to a home or when a commercial space is spruced up. ...

The idea has never been widely embraced by lawmakers, though. Only about 20 communities in Pennsylvania impose a version of the land-value tax concept. It has also been applied in parts of Australia and Taiwan. ...

“If anyone had ever read the Bible, they would pick these ideas up,” he told the Portland journalist Mamie Stevenson in 2018 in an article in Reed Magazine, a publication of his alma mater. This was, Ms. Stevenson observed, “not a popular opinion at Berkeley.”

“He was attacked,” she wrote, “both by students who held his religious views in contempt and by McCarthyites who sought to have him expelled after he penned an article that argued for a more equitable redistribution of the land.” ...

He started teaching at the University of California, Riverside, in 1976. He once said in an interview that as he was about to turn 65 he was pressured to retire. He refused, he said, and was told he had to teach Econ 101.

“I was delighted,” he said. “I got a chance to indoctrinate students about economic theories so they weren’t stunted by the standard neoclassical texts.”

He retired in 2013, at 89.

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