Q & A with President Jim Brown

November 1, 1996

Q. You have been at the helm of the Lincoln Institute since May 1. What aspect of the program has captured most of your attention in the past few months?

A. My first task has been to work with the staff to develop a more focused direction for the Institute’s programs over the next several years. Without question, we are going to continue the Institute’s commitment to quality research, education and publications programs. We want to both raise the level of debate through our research and publications and also meet our educational objective of directly helping public and private decisionmakers improve their understanding of land-related issues.

To both sharpen and narrow our program focus, we have identified three substantive areas or clusters where we will concentrate our efforts:

  • taxation of land and buildings;
  • land values, property rights and ownership; and
  • land use and regulation.

Q. Can you elaborate on these topics?

A. Sure, although it is hard to do so in a few words. We are still working on the language to better describe these important areas of inquiry.

In the area of taxation of land and buildings, we are interested in the special nature of taxes on real property, particularly those based on market value. We address the economic effects of such taxes, their legal structure and interpretation, especially with regard to valuation. We are also interested in political aspects of implementing property taxes, particularly as instruments of fiscal decentralization. Our work provides practical assistance to policymakers dealing with existing tax systems and also explores current tax reform efforts around this country and overseas.

In the area of land values, property rights and ownership, we consider the elements that determine land value and what portion of that value may properly be claimed by various sectors of society, including the public sphere. This focus area, therefore, touches upon the larger issue of property rights, the operations of formal and informal land markets in creating and distributing land value, and methods for recovering the costs of public investment in land.

In the area of land use and regulation, we focus on the process, plans and policies that affect the development of land, especially in urban “fringe” areas most at risk from changing land uses. We also investigate issues around the reuse of vacant and underutilized land and the conservation of undeveloped land. While we are interested in the economic efficiency of the use of land, we take a more comprehensive perspective for evaluating land use and its regulation. We seek to understand how the development, reuse and conservation of land affect other public values and goals, such as access to land, fairness, the character of society and the quality of life.

Q. How do you implement specific programs to address these issues?

A. The Institute has three major program components, each of which is involved with all three focus areas. Through our research program, we support scholarly projects to improve our understanding of land and taxation issues and to develop new ideas that integrate theory and practice. The education program presents courses, conferences, seminars and policy discussion workshops taught by scholars and practitioners with varied academic backgrounds and professional expertise. The publications program develops and produces newsletters, books, policy focus reports, working papers, and other media to communicate the results of our own research and education programs and the work of other colleagues in the field of land policy.

Q. Who are your major constituents and how do you reach them?

A. The Institute’s major constituents are public officials and other citizens who are actively involved in making decisions about the taxation, regulation and use of land. As an educational institution, we bring together varying viewpoints to expand the body of useful knowledge about land and tax policy and to make that knowledge accessible and comprehensible. Our objective is to provide practical assistance to policymakers, while at the same time exploring alternative approaches, both in the U.S. and internationally.

We are in the process of establishing advisory groups composed of scholars and practitioners to help us continue to refine the three focus areas. They will offer valuable assistance in guiding and evaluating the collaborative research, education and publications programs in each area. We are also developing a more focused approach to outreach and marketing. This will benefit individual courses and publications, as well as our overall goal of sharing ideas and resources through a growing variety of face-to-face meetings and electronic opportunities, such as our World Wide Web Home Page and other multi-media delivery systems.

Q. Looking forward to the Lincoln Institute’s 25th anniversary in 1999, how would you characterize the organization’s mission for the twenty-first century?

A. The Institute owes its existence to two visionaries who came of age in the late nineteenth century, Henry George and John C. Lincoln. George was an economist and social philosopher best known for his book, Progress and Poverty, in which he argued that the ownership, use and taxation of land has far-reaching effects on economic growth, social relations and politics. His work captured the attention of Cleveland industrialist John C. Lincoln, who established the Lincoln Foundation in 1947 to support further study and inquiry into George’s ideas.

Many of the problems that George decried in the late nineteenth century are still with us at the end of the twentieth. This summer I commissioned eight scholars to review George’s writings and document his insights on land use and taxation problems in terms of their relevance for the next century. We will report more on this research in subsequent issues of Land Lines.

It is my hope that all of us connected with the Institute–Board members, staff, research and faculty associates, and the policymakers and citizens whom we reach through our education and publications programs–can make progress on understanding contemporary issues of property valuation, taxation and land use. In the process we will fulfill our mission of contributing to the ongoing debate over land and tax policies that can benefit all sectors of society.