Note — Jun 28, 2020

A New Land Contract

Alastair Parvin with a very very intriguing write-up of a talk he gave at Civic Square’s ‘Department of Dreams’ event. He makes an eloquent case against how land is bought and sold, how landlords and rents are a vestige of William the Conqueror’s rule and play an immense role in the systemic crises and structural weaknesses we are currently living through. “Social resilience, health, climate, economy, democracy, are complex, and intertwined. But here’s the thing. Every single one of them has its roots in that land system.” Parvin gives us the ideal way the land system could work, followed by some smaller and much more plausible measures.

Last week I mentioned in passing this piece by Jason Hickel; Basic income isn’t just a nice idea. It’s a birthright. The two point roughly the same way; if we returned much of the planet and resources to the commons, it would completely change where money goes, what is valued how, what can get funded, etc. Put lands back in the commons and change ownership and rent; huge game changer for inequality and access to property. Put air, water, precious metals, etc. and charge proper fees for their exploitation; huge game changer again for inequality, climate change, mass extinction, etc.

Granted, a complete return to either one is very much hypothetical and would be, literally, a revolution. But at the very least realizing that ownership, inheritance, exploitation, and rent seeking are “just” systemic choices made in the past and not “natural laws” provides a useful re-framing when thinking about pretty much all issues. We can have the resources to live differently and we can do so within planetary limits. (You might also think of this while reading the capitalism piece further down.)

[A]ctually, it’s not really a Land crisis, it’s a Land system. It’s the rules of the game, hard-coded into the firmware of our society and economy. […]

And over time that piece of paper became a tradable asset, as well as an inheritable one: so you can literally buy the right to extract taxes from people. And it’s amazing to me that we don’t find that more weird than we do — it’s right there hidden in plain sight in the language we use: landlord. […]

[Land taxation rights] globally is around £280tn. To put that in perspective, all the gold in the world is only worth about £7tn, and all the data held by all the silicon valley companies is only worth around £3tn. […]

Land monopoly is eating our economy, our society, our environment, our climate and our democracy, and yet to many it is still invisible. […]

If we really want to prevent climate collapse, renew our society and build a successful, prosperous market economy, we will need to fix this obsolete right of extraction that is coded into the foundations of our society, this dysfunction that is coded into the foundations of our economy, this injustice that is coded into the foundations of our democracy.