Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Jubilee

One of the most interesting concepts of the Bible is that of the Jubilee. It's an event that happens every fifty years, and is found in the book of Leviticus Chapter 25. The chapter expresses a concern, not about "Law", but about People, especially those who are apt to be taken advantage of. Two main points are Freedom for Slaves, and return of Land to its original owners. These two concepts are related. The person who has control over the land that another person works, or lives on, has partial control over that person; a partial slavery. The idea is that Land is very different from selling the work of our labor for several reasons: Land is a Gift from God, and Land is Forever. The Jubilee is, in effect, a kind of continual land reform. Land is not a commodity that can be bought and sold. It is an inherent right of all people. Interesting that this concept is several thousand years old, yet has been mostly ignored in the living out of religious values.

Land Value Taxation is a way of accomplishing this continual Land Reform, by making sure that all people have a share of the land, or its income. The Jubilee also warns us against thinking that we can abuse our environment: the land is to rest every seven years.


  1. I am strongly opposed to increasing tax on land. I think that we should cap or even reduce property tax on land.

    A serious problem is land that was once farmed, but now is the home of retired farmers. As land prices increase due to nearby development, through no fault of the land owner, the value of the land and therefore the tax on the land increases to the point where the owner can no longer afford to pay the tax. So the landowner is forced to sell the land, usually to developers, and sprawl continues. Each time one landowner sells to developers, the value of other nearby land increases, building more pressure on landowners to sell to developers.

    The value of land, for tax purposes, is based on the “highest and best value” of the land. That is the potential sale price, whether or not the owner wants to sell the land. There are many cases where an individual owns about 10 acres of land, with a small house and most of the land wooded and natural. That individual may want to continue to live in the house for the rest of his or her life, and allow the land to remain natural. However, when the taxes on the land are $10,000/year, the person can no longer afford to live on the land and is forced to sell it. Then the bulldozers knock down the trees and a new subdivision is built.

    This is not theoretical. It is happening now all over the country and is one of the reasons landowners, who would rather keep their land in its natural state, are forced to sell to developers. We are losing to much natural land to development. We should cap or reduce the valuation on undeveloped land to the “present use” rather than the “highest and best use”, or perhaps limit the tax on land.

    John Shaw

  2. John,
    I agree with you that sprawl is a serious problem. It means that we cannot go anywhere without using a car, and therefore our longer trips, mostly by single-occupant automobile result in an increase in pollution. Also people of low income are stuck living far away from work opportunities. Land Value Tax is, in fact, an anti-sprawl tax. When there is a choice of providing office or living space, the most economical solution with Land Value Tax favors higher buildings on less ground, rather than lower buildings on spread out land. This means that there is less pressure on the rural communities to raise the value of the land, since it encourages cities to become more compact, rather than spread and displace forest and farmland.

    Low tax on land, and high tax on work, also encourages land speculation, which is the principal cause of the economic malaise we are in today. I saw this first hand in the property just north of Peace College. It had been a mill village, and when the mill was abandoned, the village was razed and the owners held on to the property, waiting for the land values to rise. When the land values did rise, that houses that were built were in the $400,000 range. If the land had been taxed higher, there would have been more incentive to sell the property sooner and more affordable housing would have been made available.

    You mention the case of retired farmers who want to live on a portion (10 acres, for example) of the land they once farmed. They preserve the land in a natural state. But what happens when the heirs of that farmer decide they don't want to live an hour away from their jobs? They then sell it at the best price they can get, which would be "highest and best use". So loss of natural space is delayed one generation. Better a tax that encourages compact growth, so that for a given population, there is less land needed.

    You mention capping the tax on land. This is what has happened in California with Proposition 13. It has limited the funds needed for the public sector and resulted in loss of public jobs. It has also shifted that tax onto work (sales tax or wage tax) which then results in a loss of private jobs.

    Thanks for responding to my comments at the transit meeting (I presume) I would appreciate keeping the discussion going on this topic, as I believe that it's important for the future of our country and our world.

  3. Yeah! Free the slaves! Isn't it about time we did that?

    As a descendant of chattel slaves (and Indians, another group disenfranchised in a different way), I especially like that idea.

    Jesus said he came to free the captives, and I believe he said that on the Last Day of the Feast of Tabernacles. he was alluding to the Jubilee. How about Christians and Jews who talk about fighting for "Judeo-Christian values" all the time, but don't even know the first thing about this, or care?

    You're in NC. I know Raleigh is a good ways east of the mountains. But anyway, traveling through from Chicago to Savannah 10 years ago, I was just struck with the beauty and feeling of peace while I was driving through the NC mountains at night. In fact I was compelled to get out of my car at a random exit high up in the hills, I think somewhere south of Asheville, and just gaze at the millions of stars (you don't see that in Chicagoland, with all the light pollution) and breathe the clearest-feeling air I've ever breathed, and just wonder at the awesomeness of the creation and the Creator.

    Just recently I learned that that was the heart of Cherokee territory once upon a time. In fact, they wanted to form a State called the State of Sequoyah in the GA/NC/TN region. Of course, the non-covenant-keeping "Christians" of the day wouldn't have it.

    I wonder if that was my 1/8 Cherokee ancestry speaking to me that night.

  4. Ooops I lied. Sequoyah was a later proposal, in OK. But original Cherokee territory was NC/TN/GA and thereabouts.

    When they discover gold in Cherokee country and Jackson decides it's time to send them on their Trail of Tears, in defiance of the supreme court, Georgia Guard moves in. They hold a lottery for Cherokee lands and they turn a Cherokee Christian school into a brothel for the Guardsmen.

    BTW, my trip to Savannah was to celebrate Feast of Tabernacles with a Christian group. Just to complete the chain of biblical references there.

  5. I agree that the American Indians are the victims of one of the most unjust invasions that have taken place on this continent. It's interesting that so many people rail against "illegal immigrants", yet forget that most of them are cousins to the people that European conquerers decided were "savages" as the U.S. Declaration of Independence calls them.
    A positive step, although a mostly token one, to recognize this injustice was taken by Mennonites, Amish, Quakers, and Prebyterians in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, when they acknowledged this injustice;