Dying for Justice, by George J.Miller

Centre for Land Policy Studies, Teddington, 2003, 74 pp, pb, 1 901202 04 6, £7.95. 

George Miller has two convictions: that poverty causes ill health and early death, and that raising public revenue from economic rent of land and natural resources (i.e., from land’s contribution to wealth creation), rather than by taxing wages and investments, is the way to fund the NHS. So this is really two books: one about health, and one about taxation. The ‘health’ book asks for higher ‘welfare’ provision (without being too specific about what that would look like) and increased spending on the NHS – though it isn’t obvious (and the author is aware of this) that higher funding of the NHS will generate significantly less illness or significantly less early death. The kind of ‘welfare’ is of course crucial, because an increase in means-tested social security payments might exacerbate rather than help the situation. The ‘taxation’ book recommends the abolition of tax on wages and investment, and the collection of tax on the economic rent of land. Whilst a Chancellor might consider the latter proposal (for, as the book shows, there are good arguments for it), they are unlikely to consider the former, for to collect smaller amounts of tax by a variety of routes is easier politically than to collect larger amounts via a smaller number of routes.

The book is somewhat disorganised and repetitive, and is trying to do too many things at once, but the Centre for Land Policy Studies should continue to encourage debate on the taxation of economic rent. A particular issue on which they might wish to sponsor high-quality research is the Council Tax, which, whilst more like a tax on economic rent than was the Community Charge, is not the same as the old rating system and doesn’t have the same effects. The business rate could also be included in such a study. After such a study the Centre might like to sponsor public opinion soundings on whether an extension of such taxation would be preferable to higher income taxes. Such an exercise would give them useful information as to whether their proposals for national taxation of economic rent would be likely to be pursued by any future Chancellor.