Addressing the Wealth Gap

Closing the racial wealth gap is very important for racial equality; the less money you have, the less respect you get. The racial wealth gap is part of our centuries-long inequitable economic system that must be changed at all levels of government. At the local or state level, one part of the system that we should seriously considering changing is the high unearned profits allowed to predominantly white land owners.

Over the past 150+ years, European Americans have dominated Oregon and the U.S., decimating the Native American population and dispossessing them from their land. European Americans have also excluded Chinese Americans and African Americans from Oregon, dispossessed Japanese Americans from their property, and economically disadvantaged African Americans. Our current economic system continues to inequitably reward those with capital or access to it, mainly European Americans.

Land and other natural resources in a state should be treated as a commonwealth, the benefits shared equitably by all its residents. Instead, we have a system that rewards private land owners. In Multnomah County, for example, privately owned land value has increased from $28.8B to $50.7B over the past 10 years.

Growth in land values is mainly a function of community efforts – government investment in infrastructure and services, neighboring development, the desirability of the natural and economic environment. Rather than only enriching those able to own land, land value should be captured by government to benefit all residents, either through more equitable government services, or simply divided among residents so renters can keep up with inflation and the poor have more resources for their children so they can climb out of generational poverty.

As an example an 80% land-value inflation tax (at property transfer or after 20 years, whichever is less) for the past 10 years in either Multnomah County or the City of Portland would have raised enough money to give every resident of 3 years or more (including children) $200/month, helping renters afford market-rate rents by letting them share in community-generated land-value inflation. A significant tax on land value inflation puts a damper on it, making land for housing and businesses more affordable to people who want to live and work here, providing “security of tenancy”, and discouraging speculators looking for a good profit.