Henry George theorem

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The Henry George theorem states that under certain conditions, aggregate spending by government on public goods will increase aggregate rent based on land value (land rent) more than that amount, with the benefit of the last marginal investment equaling its cost. The theory is named for 19th century U.S. political economist and activist Henry George.


This general relationship, first noted by the French physiocrats in the 18th century, is one basis for advocating the collection of a tax based on land rents to help defray the cost of public investment that helps create land values. Henry George popularized this method of raising public revenue in his works (especially in Progress and Poverty), which launched the 'single tax' movement.

In 1977, Joseph Stiglitz showed that under certain conditions, beneficial investments in public goods will increase aggregate land rents by at least as much as the investments' cost.[1] This proposition was dubbed the "Henry George theorem", as it characterizes a situation where Henry George's 'single tax' on land values, is not only efficient, it is also the only tax necessary to finance public expenditures.[2] Henry George had famously advocated for the replacement of all other taxes with a land value tax, arguing that as the location value of land was improved by public works, its economic rent was the most logical source of public revenue.[3]

Subsequent studies generalized the principle and found that the theorem holds even after relaxing assumptions.[4] Studies indicate that even existing land prices, which are depressed due to the existing burden of taxation on income and investment, are great enough to replace taxes at all levels of government.[5][6][7]

Economists later discussed whether the theorem provides a practical guide for determining optimal city and enterprise size. Mathematical treatments suggest that an entity obtains optimal population when the opposing marginal costs and marginal benefits of additional residents are balanced.

The status quo alternative is that the bulk of the value of public improvements is captured by the landowners, because the state has only (unfocused) income and capital taxes by which to do so.[8][9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Stiglitz, Joseph (1977). "The Theory of Local Public Goods". In Feldstein, M.S.; Inman, R.P. (eds.). The Economics of Public Services. Palgrave Macmillan, London. pp. 274–333. doi:10.1007/978-1-349-02917-4_12. ISBN 978-1-349-02919-8.
  2. ^ Arnott, Richard J.; Joseph E. Stiglitz (Nov 1979). "Aggregate Land Rents, Expenditure on Public Goods, and Optimal City Size". Quarterly Journal of Economics. 93 (4): 471–500. doi:10.2307/1884466. JSTOR 1884466. S2CID 53374401.
  3. ^ George, Henry (1879). Progress and Poverty.
  4. ^ Behrens, Kristian; Kanemoto, Yoshitsugu; Murata, Yasusada (Jan 2015). "The Henry George Theorem in a Second-Best World" (PDF). Journal of Urban Economics. 85: 34–51. doi:10.1016/j.jue.2014.10.002. S2CID 52904689.
  5. ^ "Adequacy of Land as a Tax Base" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-04-15. Retrieved 2018-08-29.
  6. ^ Gaffney, Mason (2009). "The Hidden Taxable Capacity of Land: Enough and to Spare" (PDF).
  7. ^ Foldvary, Fred (January 2006). "The Ultimate Tax Reform: Public Revenue from Land Rent". SSRN 1103586.
  8. ^ Doucet, Lars (2021-12-09). "Does Georgism Work?, Part 1: Is Land Really A Big Deal?". Astral Codex Ten. Retrieved 2021-12-26.
  9. ^ Kumhof, Michael; Tideman, T. Nicolaus; Hudson, Michael; Goodhart, Charles (2021-10-20). "Post-Corona Balanced-Budget Super-Stimulus: The Case for Shifting Taxes onto Land". Rochester, NY. SSRN 3954888.

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