David McWilliams: Tax unused land and the housing market will be sorted

Landlords will bring idle land into use pronto if they face a big cost such as tax

When land carries no penalty for being unimproved, it is taken out of supply and the overall supply of land for development falls causing land prices to rise. Photograph: iStock

When land carries no penalty for being unimproved, it is taken out of supply and the overall supply of land for development falls causing land prices to rise. Photograph: iStock

Economics is counterintuitive – and maybe this is the most important lesson in macroeconomics. Here’s a good example. A responsible household will try to save but the economy is not a household. When everyone in the economy saves at the same time, it may look good and responsible from an individual perspective but, if everyone is saving, who is spending? Since your spending is my income, if you are not spending, where is my income going to come from? And as savings flow from income, if my income is falling so too are my savings, thus everyone saving at the same time leads to a fall rather than an increase in savings.

When so-called “serious” people call for general belt-tightening, urging people to save and not spend, it sounds parsimonious – and in modern economics we’ve fetishised parsimoniousness – but it’s actually silly. What seems like common sense isn’t sensible at all.

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