Land ownership is one of the biggest causes of inequality in the world today. This can be a difficult concept for some people to get their heads round, as we have all been brought up to believe that some people own land and others don’t, in just the same way that some people own cars and others don’t, and what’s wrong with that? However there are three crucial points about land ownership which have to be considered.
Firstly, land is the greatest resource there is for generating wealth, and in particular taking a share of others people’s labours. Everything that human beings do needs space, and if you own the land you can charge them rent even though you contribute nothing at all to whatever it is they are doing or producing.
Secondly, almost everything that human beings own was created by someone’s labours – cars, books, music, fridges, mobile phones, paintings whatever. It is perfectly reasonable that whoever created something owns it, and perfectly reasonable that if they sell it then the person they sell it to now owns it. However land is different. Land was never created by anyone, and was here long before we all were. The only way anyone ever owned a piece of land was to put a stake in the ground, claim it as theirs, and threaten to kill anyone who said otherwise. That was a great injustice and a theft, an injustice that perpetuates as long as that land remains in private ownership.
Which brings us to the third point, namely that the descendents of the people who took the land, who inherited it, are afforded a great privilege in life, while the rest of us have to struggle on and have to pay them rent. The initial injustice is being sustained down the generations. Now if your response is that it’s not their descendents fault, they had no part in the injustice, and that that all happened a long time ago, then ask yourself this. If someone stole a lot of your very valuable property, many years passed during which they died and left it to their children, and then you subsequently discovered where your property was, would you say – ‘that’s OK, they can keep it, they inherited it in good faith’, or would you say – ‘I want my property back, it was never theirs to inherit in the first place’? I think most people would say the latter, and that’s the situation we’re in with land ownership. A few very wealthy families stay wealthy, and get wealthier, because the rest of us have to constantly pay them rent for land which their ancestors stole from all our common ownership.
This is a complex issue, particularly where land has since been sold, and the solutions too are complex. However it is an issue which we will have to tackle one day, if we want to live in a truly fair and equitable society. I do not intend to go into all the possible solutions here, but one very creditable one is the idea of a Land Value Tax. For anyone interested in it here is a brief summary.