Land Ownership

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.

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Land is the ultimate resource, without it we can do nothing; and those who own it have great privilege over the rest of us. Picture © Tony Atkin

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.

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The late Duke of Westminster, Britain’s biggest property developer, was worth £8.3bn, and his 25 year-old son Louis will now inherit the lot! Picture © Allan Warren

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.

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One thought on “Land Ownership

  1. The problem is ownership full-stop. If I own a car, that takes resources from a limited pool of resources (the planet); eventually someone cannot have one… If however cars were made, without profit; we exchanged and shared them, we had alternatives that were viable, and attractive; the problem would be a very different space. It would elevate the problem-space; how many cars would we need to build, how would we maintain them, and ensure a satisfactory supply that nobody (ideally nothing) was disadvantaged.

    Housing is much the same as any other resource. I Have family that own homes, believe in home-ownership, and think renting is a thing to be looked down on. They tend to get to an age, find a job they don’t mind, or hope they can stay in perpetually (complaining if they have to learn anything, or experience any change.) They also tend to be the largest complainers about debts, responsibilities; being a grown-up proportional to their means; the fastest to call someone unreasonable if they disagree with their frankly parasitical existence, and because of this artificial stasis; this inability to maintain their property past a lick of paint, some new furniture and carpets; most have properties, that do not have the adequate care (things like re-wires, central heating get moved towards “luxury” because they have to pay for them on top of the debt they accrued.

    In one way I agree with them, rental is a terrible system; but I can see how it can work. If we all socially rented in our current system. The government or local councils as a collective of people (I Have a larger problem with pseudo-social housing); would receive enough finance to maintain properties in a satisfactory condition, to pay their bills, and the bills of those needed for tasks. We know it never quite works out (I’d like to point the finger at the public servants on £100k, retiring on “golden-parachute” deals, that “manage” (I believe in management, but most public-sector is mis-managed). Anyway for each member of my family that owns a home; especially as all of their homes come from the social pool. This both reduces social housing, places debt on the purchaser (we’re not rich); and forces another home to be built for any family member owning more than one house.

    Most of the time, they don’t settle on one. We are from a lower working-class background, so as soon as kids get to teenage years, life has got expensive, people have “tastes” to maintain, habits like the pub, purchasing hobby equipment, going on holiday, so they take out debt, to buy a new house, which because they don’t have the money to buy outright, they get on buy-to-let; let someone else pay for it’s purchase… It’s parasitic. But it’s no worse than Mr Tesco, purchasing the available food to sell to you for a profit, so that he might purchase land, take-over farms, and resources, to get a better deal, to sell you the things, making more money to buy more things, he doesn’t need, that do not benefit everyone. Even if you take land out of the equation, as long as one persons ownership is not limited (incredibly), you wind up with someone loosing out.

    It gets a little murky around intellectual property and things actually extracted or created; have to be located, transformed, skill is involved; but essentially, if nobody owned anything, or believed they owned anything; a great deal of domestic violence, enforced generational poverty, pollution, starvation, and war would literally cease to exist over-night.

    The problem is. nobody with things, wants to give them up. Why should they, they have all the things they want, and in order to maintain ownership; they have to be trained to be ruthless, less emotional, and in some cases cruel. Without a benefit to themselves, they see no reason. Historically, the only thing that has worked is to kill them. A Peasant mob, an organised revolt, and inevitably, some tosser goes in seeking to supplant them, like Thomas Cromwell, or a rival nation or sovereign. “People cannot rule themselves, nobody is any good. Let me do it!” – every ass-hat trying to “lead” people… Nobody wants to be the arch-helper; the best listener, the one that gave away the most things…

    Until we can cure that (I include myself 100%), we’re collectively F’d. It means overcoming trust issues, education issues, fear; and resisting what seem like base instincts. We have to overcome religion, extremism (generally, so including any and every extreme, which itself seems kind of extreme); and generally being super-human. No wonder the idiots all believe in a god; there has to be something better. Or what is the point. Locked in a game of snakes and ladders, where the end 13 steps are all snakes, and we can’t see a ladder.

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