Land Monopoly

Land to the People Who Till It!”

In my examination on the Land Monopoly, and examining how political expropriation, the tax economy, and political constraints on workers’ access to small-scale land ownership have combined to create an economy of dependence, employment and top-down capitalism.

“Where resources are ‘open,’ few will work for big enter­prises, and the latter will (if they can) institute some form of slavery. One never finds free land, free peasants, and non-working owners together. Why? Because where pol­it­ic­al leverage allows, aspir­ing lords and rent-seekers will eliminate the free land, the free peasants, or both. Enter­prisers in colonies have always want­ed regul­ar supplies of cheap labor for their projects. Aided by col­on­ial administrators with the same assumptions, they gradually over­came native economic in­dep­endence. Land was the key. No matter how hard natives work­ed on their holdings, colonialists decried their ‘idleness’ — and their unciv­il­iz­ed fail­ure to work for wages. Colonial bureaucrats and em­ploy­ers saw a definite connection between small-scale land­own­er­ship and independence, and resolved to cut that independence short….

“I doubt we are necessarily better off merely because of em­ploy­ment. We need to know more, including why particular sets of choices exist in the first place. Back in the ’60s, Selective Serv­ice used to ‘channel’ us into the ‘right’ occupations by threaten­ing to draft us. What if proletarianization is not the ideal form of hum­an life? What if a complex division of labor is merely useful or con­ven­ient, but not a moral imper­at­ive? What if most of us are hirelings, well paid or otherwise, and then we learn what that status amounts to? Unfreedom arises both from direct, forcible coercion and from institutional arrangements that make people dependent. Freedom requires that we not be menaced by latent unknown powers. Freedom in this sense is liberty—a shared civic or public good. Like many real public goods it is not provided by the state, indeed the state may be its chief enemy….

On Land Monopoly
Abraham Lincoln

[From a letter written to his law firm partner, Mr. Gridley; quoted in Abraham Lincoln and the Men of his Time, by Robert H. Browne. Reprinted from The Freeman, February, 1939]

“If I made the investment it would constantly turn my attention to that kind of business; and so far disqualify me from what seems my calling and success in it and interfere with the public or half public service which I neither seek nor avoid.

“I respect the man who properly named these villains land sharks. They are like the wretched ghouls who follow a ship and fatten on its offal.

“The land, the earth God gave to man for his home, sustenance and support, should never be in the possession of any man, corporation, society or unfriendly government any more than air or water — if as much. An individual or company, or enterprise, acquiring land should hold no more than is required for their home and sustenance, and never more than they have in actual use in the prudent management of their legitimate business, and this much should not be permitted when it creates an exclusive monopoly. All that is not so used should be held for the free use of every family to make homesteads and to hold them as long as they are so occupied.

“The idle talk of foolish men, that is so common now, will find its way against it, with whatever force it may possess, and as strongly promoted and carried on as it can be by land monopolists, grasping landlords and the titled and untitled senseless enemies of mankind everywhere.

“On other questions there is ample room for reform when the time comes; but now it would be folly to think we could take more than we have in hand. But when slavery is over and settled, men should never rest content while oppression, wrongs and iniquities are enforced against them.”

The Land Question
Quotations from Historical and Contemporary Sources

Claiming Mother Earth — what none of us has created yet all of us need — has been a source of debate and a cause of violence that has never left us. Earth is the source of all material wealth; and good earth (safe and well-located places for building of cities or fertile soil for growing crops, or mineral-laden lands are limited in supply. Fertile soil, lovely vistas, rich mineral deposits, downtown intersections — these things cannot be relocated or reproduced.

Within and between virtually every society there has been constant struggle over who will control the Earth. We are all dependent upon the Earth for our very survival, yet our systems of law fail to protect equal access to the Earth as a birthright of each person. In some societies, nature is largely controlled by the State (i.e., by bureaucratic agencies); in others, by elitist hierarchies; and, in still others, by individuals (directly or through corporate boards) who have obtained titles over nature by grant, inheritance or purchase.

Nature, too often, is treated under law as merely another type of private or government asset. For this, we have and are paying a heavy price.These contradictions have not escaped the attention of the more thoughtful among us. For example, rather early in his political career, Winston Churchill remarked:

Land, which is a necessity of human existence, which is the original source of all wealth, which is strictly limited in extent, which is fixed geographical position — land, I say, differs from all other forms of property in these primary and fundamental conditions.

Churchill joined a renowned group of predecessors and contemporaries who understood that the Earth — including the soil, water, air, and energy — was made by whatever forces made us. And, that the Earth is the source of the wealth — our food, clothes, homes, factories, machinery, cars, jewelry, etc. — made by us. Goods we purchase from the producers. Services we purchase from the persons who exchange these services for goods (or currency). However, we are not able to purchase nature from its producer. Nature is here for us to exploit, freely but equally. And, when there began to be more of us than could exploit nature without denying others their birthright, some arrangement was called for to see that justice is served.

Law that permits the holding of titles to some part of the Earth has resulted in a few people controlling more land than others or owning better sites than others. This has forced the majority of people throughout history to make do with not enough land and locations of inferior quality.

The degree of inequality associated with control over the Earth is so bad that some landlord/tenant cases are little different from the master/slave relationship; think, for example, about the relative positions in society of the farm owner and farm worker. Horace Greeley (1811-1872), the journalist and politician who crusaded against slavery in the United States, noted:

Whenever the ownership of the soil is so engrossed by a small part of the community that the far larger part are compelled to pay whatever the few may see fit to exact for the privilege of occupying and cultivating the Earth, there is something very much like slavery.

The United States of America control sufficient territory and its socio-political arrangements and institutions are young enough so that the concentrated control over land and natural resources has been less of a problem than in older or smaller nations. Nevertheless, today, according to a United States Department of Agriculture study, just 3% of the population owns more than 95% of the privately held land.



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