There's an election today in North Dakota, and what's on the ballot isn't what you'd expect. It's an amendment to the North Dakota constitution to end altogether the property tax in that state. If I lived in north dakota, I'd vote for it. At the same time, and on the other side of the atlantic, there's interesting news out of Ireland this week - the Irish are considering *starting* a property tax - a tax on land. This is something brand new for the Irish, although it has a long history here in the united states. A few years back, i was invited to Ireland to give a speech. On the way back to the airport, a very chatty cab driver asked me a startlingly simple question, "how is it," he asked, "that you Americans aren't allowed to own land?" I asked him what he was talking about - at that time Louise and I owned a home in Atlanta, and the mortgage was nearly paid off. "It's really simple," he said. "Here in ireland I own my home and the government can never take it away from me. But in america you just rent your land from the government, and if you don't pay your property taxes, the government will take your land away and sell the right to pay rent - taxes - on it to somebody else." At that time, there was no property tax in ireland. If you lost your job, you kept your home. If you were wiped out by illness or accident or any other sort of disaster, you kept your home. The government could never take it away from you.
It was that way when our nation was founded, as well. Property taxes were used in part to fund the american revolution, but they were on *all* the property you owned - your horses, cows, corn, even on slaves in the south - and on the value of your house - but usually not at all on your land. In 1818, two generations after the American revolution, Illinois became the first state to levy an equalized - standardized - property tax on land across the entire state. By 1900, 33 states had done the same. As of today, every state in the union basically owns your land and rents it to you, that rent being called property tax. And if you don't pay your rent, you lose what you thought was your land. A home and lot worth $100,000 can be seized and auctioned off for being $50 behind in property taxes. When Thomas Jefferson was president, his old friend the Marquis de Lafayette asked him to translate a book on economics by a French economist named Desuit de Tracey. Jefferson translated it into english, and sent the manuscript to Lafayette, although he begged Lafayette to keep it a secret that he'd done so because, as a sitting president, he didn't want to be seen as interfering in economic and political debates in Europe. But Jefferson translated the book because it confirmed a lot of his previous thinking.