Doughnut Framework and Taxes


Neil here. New to Doughnut Dialogues. I gave up on economics when Laffer came up with his curve, (which makes me an old guy). The Doughnut framework has me interested again.

I’m curious to know what people think it would take for this framework to be widely and quickly adopted?

Assuming a free market economic system, the most expedient way might be through taxation. Businesses, people and governments pay attention to taxes. Which begs my next question, what would taxes based on this framework look like?

My own wishful thinking:

  1. Eliminate income tax.
  2. Establish a progressive estate tax for non-commercial enterprises and families. This wouldn’t in itself help with the adoption of the doughnut framework but it complements the next step.
  3. Tax the revenue of commercial enterprises based on the impact they have on the sectors above the Ecological Ceiling and below the Social Foundation.
    a. Regarding the Ecological Ceiling I would set the tax rates on an industry basis. Care would be needed in setting effective industries boundaries. For example: I would not be split an agriculture industry into organic and non-organic; rather I would ensure that there are appropriate taxes agri-chemical industry and those added product costs would be passed on. Taxing across an industry should help disperse improvements in technologies and practices.
    b. Regarding the Social Foundation I would set the tax rates based on the individual enterprises performance.
    c. Increase taxes on a logarithmic scale as the impact moves away from the sustainable core.
    There are a lot of things I haven’t been able to effectively think through. How would imports be treated? How would diversified businesses be treated, especially the vertically integrated ones?

Just Curious.


Hi Neil. As Raworth suggests in her book, one secret is not to start with economics, but with purposes and values economics is supposed to serve as a tool, a means rather than end. That suggests to me that you might start with an initial list that just might not be in economic policy at all,. At least the way we learned in class. This is a good place to consider the systems approach Raworth insists on.

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Thanks. I will read her book again with that perspective in mind.

Hi Neil,
I have been exploring the ‘embedded economy’ model on page 71. I have taken a look at the market , the household and have been exploring the role of the state (government). These areas all interact to create the economy (an emergent property in system terms).

I had trouble understanding the role of the State (government) until I read Robert Reich’s book ‘Saving Capitalism’ and Joseph E. Stiglitz book People, Power and Profits. Stiglitz was referenced in Kate’s book.

My conclusion is not what I was expecting. The state has a very important role to play in the emergent economy. The ‘State’ basically sets the rules for the ‘Market’ and creates the a part of the ‘commons’ and requires funding (taxation) for policies and decisions that the ‘state’ has made.

As an example, the state sets the rules for the market: property (ownership); monopoly; contracts; bankruptcy; and the enforcement of the above. America had similar problems in the 1930s and after the crash; the rules changed. WWII helped rebuild businesses and up to the late 1970s the economy was actually in good shape. Then the rules changed when ‘trickle down’ economic thinking was introduced and most of the rules from the since the 1930s have been reversed… and the trickle down --> trickled up as before. (I think this is called an ‘own’ goal in football).

The problems we face today are much more systemic … with the full power of the doughnut becoming visible … more areas exceeding the planetary boundaries and more poverty in America and elsewhere is becoming visible (in spite of the glowing words about the economy we heard this week).

NOTE: The UK NHS is an example of a state (government) sponsored common resource paid for by National Insurance. This is again a state decision. Nationalising a railway in the north, is another state owned (commons) element following another government decision.

The solution is not just taxes but a re-thinking of the role of the state (government) and how it can deliver the will of the people to help them thrive and flourish. Who pays taxes, how much, what services should be government provide and how we want the markets to work, all need to be looked at as in a holistic way. The embedded economy model is the best model I’ve seen to start these conversations.

Hope this helps… Regards, Bruce

Socially Just Taxation and Its Effects (17 listed)

Our present complicated system for taxation is unfair and has many faults. The biggest problem is to arrange it on a socially just basis. Many companies employ their workers in various ways and pay them diversely. Since these companies are registered in different countries for a number of categories, the determination the criterion for a just tax system becomes impossible, particularly if based on a fair measure of human work-activity. So why try when there is a better means available, which is really a true and socially just method?

Adam Smith (“Wealth of Nations”, 1776) says that land is one of the 3 factors of production (the other 2 being labor and durable capital goods). The usefulness of land is in the price that tenants pay as rent, for access rights to the particular site in question. Land is often considered as being a form of capital, since it is traded similarly to other durable capital goods items. However it is not actually man-made, so rightly it does not fall within this category. The land was originally a gift of nature (if not of God) for which all people should be free to share in its use. But its site-value greatly depends on location and is related to the community density in that region, as well as the natural resources such as rivers, minerals, animals or plants of specific use or beauty, when or after it is possible to reach them. Consequently, most of the land value is created by man within his society and therefore its advantage should logically and ethically be returned to the community for its general use, as explained by Martin Adams (in “LAND”, 2015).

However, due to our existing laws, land is owned and formally registered and its value is traded, even though it can’t be moved to another place, like other kinds of capital goods. This right of ownership gives the landlord a big advantage over the rest of the community because he determines how it may be used, or if it is to be held out of use, until the city grows and the site becomes more valuable. Thus speculation in land values is encouraged by the law, in treating a site of land as personal or private property—as if it were an item of capital goods, although it is not (see Mason Gaffney and Fred Harrison: “The Corruption of Economics”, 2005).

Regarding taxation and local community spending, the municipal taxes we pay are partly used for improving the infrastructure. This means that the land becomes more useful and valuable without the landlord doing anything—he/she will always benefit from our present tax regime. This also applies when the status of unused land is upgraded and it becomes fit for community development. Then when this news is leaked, after landlords and banks corruptly pay for this information, speculation in land values is rife. There are many advantages if the land values were taxed instead of the many different kinds of production-based activities such as earnings, purchases, capital gains, home and foreign company investments, etc., (with all their regulations, complications and loop-holes). The only people due to lose from this are those who exploit the growing values of the land over the past years, when “mere” land ownership confers a financial benefit, without the owner doing a scrap of work. Consequently, for a truly socially just kind of taxation to apply there can only be one method–Land-Value Taxation.

Consider how land becomes valuable. New settlers in a region begin to specialize and this improves their efficiency in producing specific goods. The central land is the most valuable due to easy availability and least transport needed. This distribution in land values is created by the community, after an initial difficult start and not by the natural resources. As the village and city expand, speculators in land values will deliberately hold potentially useful sites out of use, until planning and development have permitted their site-values to grow. Meanwhile there is fierce competition for access to the most suitable sites for housing, agriculture and manufacturing industries. The limited availability of useful land means that the high rents paid being by tenants make their residences more costly and the provision of goods and services more expensive. It also creates unemployment when entrepreneurs find the rents too high for them to operate and employ workers. This speculation causes wages to be lowered by the monopolists, who control the big producing organizations and whose land was previously obtained when it was cheap. Consequently this basic structure of our current macroeconomics system, works to limit opportunity and to create poverty, see above reference.

The most basic cause of our continuing poverty is the lack of properly paid work and the reason for this is the lack of opportunity of access rights to the land on which the work must be done. The useful land is monopolized by a landlord who either holds it out of use (for speculation in its rising value), or charges the tenant heavily in rent for its right to access. In the case when the landlord is also the producer, he/she has a monopolistic control of the land and of the produce. The product becomes more costly–this monopolist can effectively charge more for it, than what an entrepreneur normally would, were he/she able to compete on an equal basis, because of the excessive rent demanded by the landlord.

A wise and sensible government would recognize that this problem derives from lack of opportunity to work and earn. It can be solved by the use of a tax system which encourages the proper use of land and which stops penalizing everything and everybody else. Such a tax system was proposed almost 140 years ago by Henry George, a (North) American economist, but somehow most macro-economists seem never to have heard of him, in common with a whole lot of other experts. (I would guess that they don’t want to know, which is worse!) In “Progress and Poverty” 1879, Henry George proposed a single tax on land values without other kinds of tax on produce, services, capital gains, etc. This regime of land value tax (LVT) has 17 features which benefit almost everyone in the economy, except for landlords and banks, who/which do nothing productive and wrongly find that land dominance has its own reward.

17 Aspects of LVT Affecting Government, Land Owners, Communities and Ethics

Four Aspects for Government:

  1. LVT, adds to the national income as do all other taxation systems, but it can and should replace them.
  2. The cost of collecting the LVT is less than for all of the production-related taxes—then tax avoidance becomes impossible because the sites being taxed are visible to all.
  3. Consumers pay less for their purchases due to lower production costs (see below). This creates greater satisfaction with the government’s management of national affairs.
  4. The national economy stabilizes—it no longer experiences the 18 year business boom/bust cycle, due to periodic speculation in land values (see below).

Six Aspects Affecting Land Owners:

  1. LVT is progressive–owners of the most potentially productive sites pay the most tax.
  2. The land owner pays his LVT regardless of how his site is used. When fully developed, a large proportion of the ground-rent from tenants becomes the LVT, with the result that land has less sales-value but a significant “rental”-value (even when it is not being used).
  3. LVT stops the speculation in land prices and any withholding of land from proper use is not worthwhile.
  4. The introduction of LVT initially reduces the sales price of sites, (even though their rental value can still grow over long-term use). As more sites become available, the competition for them becomes less fierce so entrepreneurs are more active.
  5. With LVT, land owners are unable to pass the tax on to their tenants as rent hikes, due to the reduced competition for access to the additional sites that come into use.
  6. With LVT, land prices will initially drop. Speculators in land values will want to foreclose on their mortgages and withdraw their money for reinvestment. Therefore LVT should be introduced gradually, to allow these speculators sufficient time to transfer their money to company-shares etc., and simultaneously to meet the increased demand for produce (see below).

Three Aspects Regarding Communities:

  1. With LVT, there is an incentive to use land for production or residence, rather than it being unused.
  2. With LVT, greater working opportunities exist due to cheaper land and a greater number of available sites. Consumer goods become cheaper too, because entrepreneurs have less difficulty in starting-up their businesses and because they pay less ground-rent–demand grows, unemployment decreases.
  3. Investment money is withdrawn from land and placed in durable capital goods. This means more advances in technology and cheaper goods too.

Four Aspects About Ethics:

  1. The collection of taxes from productive effort and commerce is socially unjust. LVT replaces this extortion by gathering the surplus rental income, which comes without any exertion from the land owner or by the banks–LVT is a natural system of national income-gathering.
  2. Bribery and corruption on information about land cease. Before, this was due to the leaking of news of municipal plans for housing and industrial development, causing shock-waves in local land prices (and municipal workers’ and lawyers’ bank balances).
  3. The improved and proper use of the more central land reduces the environmental damage due to a) unused sites being dumping-grounds, and b) the smaller amount of fossil-fuel use, when traveling between home and workplace.
  4. Because the LVT eliminates the advantage that landlords currently hold over our society, LVT provides a greater equality of opportunity to earn a living. Entrepreneurs can operate in a natural way-- to provide more jobs. Then earnings will correspond to the value that the labor puts into the product or service. Consequently, after LVT has been properly introduced it will eliminate poverty and improve business ethics.


I’m trying to wrap my head around a Land Value Tax. It seems to point to economic activity increasing the value of land. What happens when the opposite is the case?
I live in Minnesota, USA and there is a lot of discussion/argument over the opening of mining production very close to a pristine wilderness area. Given the operating record of the type of mining it is highly likely that the wilderness area would become severely damaged. That wilderness area is used many people and generates economic activity. In fact many consider that opening the mine would lead to a net-lose to the area’s economy, using current economic models.
How would a Land Value Tax impact that?

I will look for the books you mentioned.
I didn’t intend to suggest that a tax system would stand on its own as a means to establish this new framework. More as a way of opening eyes and forcing a discussion.

Land value taxation must be slowly introduced so as to avoid hardship due to a sudden change. As landowners find tghemselves having to pay this tax they will stop speculating in rising land values and sell their sites for proper use to entrepreners and home builders.This will create a more oprosperous situation but due to the greater number of sites available, their price will initially drop and then it will rise again as the sites beconme properly used. Mining is an activity that takes up a lot of land so it may cease to be profitable when the tax is being paid even though the areas in question have low values compared to urban centers. It may happen that the materials from the mines become more costly and so competition drives the need to obtain the same materials from abroad or elsewhere where the tax on land is less. This is because if the land has any better use and people will make use of it, mining will cease to be worthwhile.