February 2018        

Land value tax: A response

Dáithí Ó hAirtrí

■ See “Understanding land value tax” by Eoghan O’Neill, Socialist Voice, January 2018, p. 10

I do not think it is correct to suggest that land is finite but can be reused. We have seen in Chernobyl that land will not be reusable in any human lifetime; it is useless for habitation for thousands of years. Likewise with dumps or incinerators: the dioxins released leach into water and soil and lead to illness.
     Secondly, with climate change and rising sea levels the sum total of land, and more specifically arable land, will be reduced. We cannot look at it as a fixed property, because it will make our analysis outdated extremely quickly.
     Why are these class issues? Well, firstly, when we consider the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, we know that capitalists will resort to even more environmentally destructive policies in order to maintain their profits. This is why we see fracking, oil pipelines and Arctic drilling as the big environmental issues of our time. Profit pressures force capitalists into more and more unproductive and destructive mechanisms, compounding the amount of land that will fall into a state of unusability. It will also mean that capitalism will never truly tackle climate change.
     Secondly, with the collapse of arable land it will lead to massive displacement throughout the developing world and the necessary intensification of imperialism in order to maintain the imperial core’s hold over that subjugation.
     It is important to get these things theoretically correct, as if we proceed from wrong assumptions we will end up down an ideological cul de sac. Any analysis of Irish land use must take into account an environmental lens and also a population lens.
     On the land value tax in general, Karl Marx referred to such taxes as “capitalism’s last-ditch attempt” to “save capitalist domination and indeed to establish it afresh on an even wider basis than its present one.” Shifting the store of value from labour to ownership is an ideological decision that I’m not sure I agree with.
     Secondly, how do we assess the value of the land? Is that a market-based pricing mechanism? Surely a backward step to start incorporating market actions in our solutions.
     We need to create a tension over land monopolies. That is not done, in my opinion, by adding additional costs to the ownership of land but instead by striking directly at those who are landowners. We need land reform in the vein of what was promised before the Irish Revolution. We should look for guidance from the Fenians rather than from market socialists.

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