land seizure villagers police myanmar

Villagers Batter Police in Myanmar Over Land Seizures
protest iglesias property tax wealth tax

Solve it -- Slate's Iglesias Says Recover Ground Rent

To get the land's value, some people fight, some people tax. We excerpt two 2013 articles from (1) New York Times, Feb 27, on Myanmar by T. Fuller, and (2) Slate, Mar 6, on wealth tax by M. Yglesias.

by Thomas Fuller and by Matthew Yglesias

When police tried to disperse villagers in Myanmar who were protesting the taking of land by a private company, they clashed; the police got the worst of it. It was the second time in four months that a crackdown by the police related to land seizures turned violent. In November, dozens of monks were badly burned when police officers in riot gear used what a group of lawyers has said were white phosphorus incendiary devices, a weapon usually reserved for warfare.

The issue of land seizures has dogged the administration of President Thein Sein, who took office in 2011 after five decades of military rule. A parliamentary committee investigating land seizures has been presented with evidence of numerous cases dating from before the transfer to civilian rule.

The protests in Maubin began last week, according to reports in the Myanmar news media, with several hundred farmers gathering at an agricultural project owned by a businessman, U Myint Sein. Farmers say that the land was confiscated in 1996 and then sold to Mr. Myint Sein, and that they were never compensated.

“We just want our land back,” said Khin Mar Win, 32, a villager. “All we have is our land.”

“It is an old problem, but now it has exploded,” said Lt. Col. Tot Shwe of the police.

To read more

JJS: People clash over land because some think they can snag the land’s value for themselves yet instead all of society should constantly make clear that land value is not up for grabs but something that belongs to us all, our common wealth.

The property taxes that fund local governments, for example, are a tax on housing wealth. It's just that housing wealth happens to be the most widely held form of wealth in the country, so it doesn't pack the egalitarian punch of a wealth tax.

Another kind of wealth tax is that we levy capital gains taxes on nominal capital gains, so if you buy an asset and then sell it 10 years later for zero inflation-adjusted gain, you'll end up paying taxes on the sale. That in effect turns the inflation rate into a wealth tax. Again, though, that's not a particularly intelligent way of taxing wealth. Last but by no means least, if you're very wealthy we tax your wealth when you die.

The old argument going back to David Ricardo and Henry George that you should tax land wealth very heavily seems quite sound to me. Levying heavy tax rates on valuable land (whether it's valuable because it's in San Francisco or valuable because it has oil in it) does not create any bad incentives. These days, a lot of wealth consists of patents that could be taxed more heavily but should probably just be abolished. But in terms of general taxation of financial assets, the basic concept of taxing estates rather than a steady drip-drip-drip of wealth taxes seems like a reasonably sound idea.

To read more

JJS: The thing that taxists and redistributionists might be overlooking is that once society recovers and shares all of its spending for land and resources and for privileges like patents and corporate charters, then there won’t any longer be any undue fortunes to envy, no longer any poverty to pity, and no need to tax at all since rents can be recovered via fees, dues, and leases. Still, it’s great to get a plug from an articulate commentator for any variant of geonomic reform. Thanks, Slate!


Editor Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics and helped prepare a course for the UN on geonomics. To take the “Land Rights” course, click here .

Also see:

In Uganda, Honduras, People Battle to Death for Land

Why Make Something Plentiful Scarce?

f You Got Land, You Can Do These Things

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