Wednesday, August 04, 2010

My Daily Domestic Clips 08/05/2010 (a.m.)

  • Having just found that the property tax on a little piece my sister and I inherited MORE THAN DOUBLED in taxes and there's nothing on it! I'm a little bitter about property taxes. 

    tags: taxes

    • Property taxation, it seems to me, presupposes one of two things. Either, first, that the properties upon which tax is levied generate income, of themselves, such that a portion of this is owed to the government for public goods and so forth. Except that, for the overwhelming majority of us, our property is simply real estate, which does not of itself generate income. To be sure, there is an expectation, now fading, that real estate can only appreciate, yielding income at the time of sale; but there is another term for this: capital gains. All of this is to say, then, that the property tax seems to presuppose something like feudalism: one held a piece of land in fief, and owed a certain percentage of its produce to one's lord. The fief generated wealth, and some of that wealth was due for the provision of public goods and services.
    • We, obviously, do not live under a feudal regime, though property taxation seems to presuppose such a regime. A feudal regime would also be a more distributive state, but we obviously do not live in one of those, which renders this tax doubly absurd to my mind: the properties which are taxed are neither income-generating, as they would be under feudalism, nor distributed as they would be under feudalism. So, despite the rhetorical appeal some have occasionally found in likening this tax to feudalism, it seems a safe conjecture that it is not a relic of feudalism.



      Or, second, the property tax could be a sign of something else altogether - not a vestige of a long-discarded social order, but a sort of implicit rent payment: we are all renting, in this sense, from our local governments, with the tax representing the fee paid for the privilege of having shelter. After all, contrary to the feudal system, in modern rental arrangements, the only presupposition is that of use, as opposed to income generation. And it strikes me as perverse in the extreme to proclaim, even tacitly, that governments are universal landlords.



      In closing, I note only that I have pointedly ignored the pragmatic rationales for property taxation: the ease of financing local governments and schools, and so forth. These rationales elide the many inequities of such systems of finance, and in any event, the use of a thing does not exhaust its significance. And it is the significance of property taxation, its symbolism, apart from the numerous pragmatic purposes and injustices (elderly folks losing homes because, on fixed incomes, they cannot pay the tax and, well, eat as well), that renders it manifestly perverse.


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