Wednesday, June 1, 2016

My land

My brother linked me to an article about private land ownership that I really like.  One of the things I usually find when I read things on this topic is a bunch of silliness, either pie in the sky dreams or revolutionary nonsense.  There is, to my mind, a way to thread the needle between communist dreams and toeing the capitalist line where you can both look beyond the current standards and remain realistic about change.  It isn't much use to talk about how we should just eliminate private property without any sort of plan for what happens afterwards - it won't happen, and if it did it would be catastrophic.  However, we don't want to get stuck in the mindset that everything we do now is the only way, because clearly we could organize ourselves differently.

A lot of the things we currently do with land are ineffective.  Landlords are allowed to have valuable property sit vacant, preventing it from being used by someone.  There is value in ownership of things, but with a highly limited resource like land there is no value to society in letting the rich decide to leave it useless and/or unused.  As an example, we could set up our society so that vacant land can be taken over for growing food, and use tax relief for the landlord as an incentive.

In general I think there is a lot of value in forcing people to recognize that blind assumptions need not necessarily be true.  Whether that be an assumption of heterosexuality, the wearing of shoes, monogamy, private land ownership, or other assumptions isn't particularly meaningful - there is value in having people question those assumptions so they can think outside them and perhaps find valuable answers there.

The trick to engaging me in such discussions is to frame them as thought experiments designed to further creativity rather than a revolutionary call without any plan in place.  I don't buy into revolutions with utopian ideals but no plan... from history we know that those usually get co-opted by somebody with a high tolerance for violence and things do not improve.

I like the idea of thinking about how we can take a bite out of wealth inequality and inherited wealth in particular.  Land ownership is a big part of that, so it definitely deserves to be thoroughly examined for opportunities for positive change.

The way I would like to view land ownership is the same way I view the free market or capitalism.  I think of them all as useful tools, effective at certain things.  Unfortunately the debate about them is deeply coloured by entrenched extreme opinions wanting to view them through a moral lens, as though a particular way of organizing our monetary transactions is universally righteous.  They aren't even universally helpful or good, much less righteous, so we shouldn't frame the debate that way.  All of them are like hammers.  Good for solving certain problems (pounding in a nail) and garbage for other problems (polishing a window).

We as a society need to start seeing these things this way, and sorting out which things are nails and which are windows.  Reading articles like this is a good way to start those discussions when we are talking about land ownership in particular.


  1. I've donated to charities that purchase land to be left vacant and unused. I think there is value to society if there are natural areas where wild birds and animals can live. I suppose I am stuck in the paradigm where title to land prevents disputes over who has priority in using the land.

  2. Leaving land empty for wildlife can be useful, but it also depends where the land is. If it's one plot in the middle of a built-up area, overgrown, it can look pretty unsightly. Further out of town, though, it is not so much of a problem.