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Land is Free
Land is Free

SA70. Dissertation on Land Rental by Marion Ray

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It    is   believed  that   the  earth  is  something   like  4,600,000,000   years   old.  How it came into being is not exactly understood, a mystery. It seems to be thought that massive rocky fragments were drawn together by gravity, becoming a single rotating orb turning in such a way that all parts receive light from the sun and then are shaded from it alternately.

Eventually it cooled to a temperature at which water could exist in its liquid form and cover large parts of its surface as it does today. This in turn is surrounded by a complete but very thin layer of atmospheric gases comparable in proportion to the skin on a fruit.

It is currently thought that Life began about 4,000,000,000 years ago. Again, we do not know how it came into being, another mystery. Not only do we do not know how it began but also we do not know what it is.

In the course of time since then life has evolved into more and more complex forms, culminating  in  man.  Plant  life  uses  the  energy  of  sunlight  to  convert  ground  water and atmospheric carbon dioxide into sugar. Animal life is a secondary layer, compelled to eat, digest and defecate, the most basic facts of life always and everywhere without exception. Carnivorous animals constitute a third layer.

It is suggested that the coming of life was a single, unique occurrence  by the fact that  amino acids (groups of atoms that form proteins) exist in two forms, right- and left-handed but all those found in living matter, from the lowest to the highest, are without exception left­ handed ones.

Early man roamed the earth in places having a congenial climate and fresh water (primary needs), hunting, fishing and gathering food. Such a life must have been hard and precarious.
Today some men seem to take a curious delight in killing and I believe this may be because killing some large animal must have meant for a time a plenitude of food for a hungry population and was therefore a matter for rejoicing. It seems as though some kind of remnant of joy in killing remains with some people and finds an outlet in such things as hunting, warfare, terrorism, horror stories and the like, when one would think that in civilised society they would be regarded (as perhaps most of us do) as a waste of time, energy, effort, resources, and totally unnecessary. Everything eaten has been killed but today killing animals for food is done decently, in the background, using humane methods and without excitement.

So what should we properly be doing? We want to live arid live as fully as possible. To produce the things we need we must work and most of us are willing, even anxious, to do this in a wide variety of ways according to the very different talents we are born with (continuous leisure soon becomes boredom).

The sole source of what we need to do this is the earth. From the earth we get everything – food to eat, materials for clothes to be made from, homes to be built from and all else.

In terms that have become customary in the study of economics, this is ‘known as Land but it includes, as well as the surface of the earth, minerals and all that is found below  the  surface right down to the centre of the globe, waters that cover parts of it, all that grows naturally upon it and the atmosphere that is above it, so that, for example, in the Air Navigation Act of 1920 special provision was made that no action for trespass could be made against the owners of aeroplanes flying over anybody’s land.

Naturai Resources might really be a better name for it.

Early man lived with his fellows upon lands probably well known to his tribe, wandering from one place to another as they became fruitful with the seasons. They knew the plants and animals good to eat and observed them and clues to their presence with extraordinary acuity. In time he they must have understood how seeds took root in the soil and animals multiplied. They may have held or protected some of them in anticipation of the yield.

Domestication is of course an easy way of life for unthinking plants and animals and when it is more fully developed it is a more efficient way of living than hunting, fishing and gathering, and this is where difficulties begin. The person who has planted seeds has to have patience to wait for them to grow, caring for them in the place where they have been planted. Those who hunt know nothing of this and may chase over the same spot, ruining the crop. To this day this may be a source of acrimony and sometimes very bad behaviour. This is a small example but in civilization it becomes magnified in many ways. THE NEED TO HAVE SOLE TENURE OF A PLOT OF LAND IS THE SOURCE OF ALL OUR TROUBLES ECONOMICALLY.

The easiest way to resolve this dilemma, permitting farmers and others to enjoy their holdings in peace while not depriving the community in any way is for them to pay it a rental in exchange for which it is agreed to let them be sole occupants of their respective sites for the periods of their leases. If they wish to put buildings or other improvements  on the land that is for them to do at their own expense and they may sell or bequeath them when they relinquish their tenancies. Without constant maintenance these will deteriorate and eventually disappear, unlike the land itself.

We do not know when this idea was first articulated but it must be quite ancient. We know it was advocated (together with free trade) by the Physiocrats, a small group of intellectuals in the court of Louis XV of France. Their leader, Francois Quesnay, derived it from the Duc de Sully, chief minister of Henry IV, who seems to have been something of a genius in the handling of practical affairs and rescued France from having a state of national debt to one of having a treasury surplus. Today, we read of it in Adam Smith’s great work “The Wealth of Nations”, who made acknowledgement to these predecessors.

In medieval times money in the form of coinage was not such a common experience as it is with us today. Obligations were more commonly settled in kind or else by labour. What might be called payment of rent was settled by the villagers working for a number of days for the Lord of the Manor. The Lord of the Manor, in turn, with a troop of his men, was expected to support the King in expelling foreign invaders when necessary. But generally speaking this was a peaceful, though very hard-working, existence.

Great care was taken in the first place to ensure that the farmers had a fair share of land in the village by, for instance, the system of strip farming, which is still preserved today as an example in the village of Laxton in Nottinghamshire. The fields in the village were all divided into strips and farmers were allocated a number of strips in different fields so that each one worked some of the best land and some not so good. Farmers would also have assisted in maintaining roads, ditches, hedges and the environment generally.

To ensure justice it is essential that land rent should be paid to the community and not into private hands.

And so the land of England was ultimately held, very properly, by the King on behalf of Englishmen, his subjects, without any money payment being involved. This from the first has always been the most basic form of land holding. There were also private estates but the bulk of the land was held in common (called “commons” – 74,202 of them in Domesday Book), farmed by the villagers. However, as still today, there are those who seek to bend the rules and engage in sharp practices to their own advantage and they find means, both legally and otherwise, to do this. There is a long history of such activities, which filch off pieces of the common land, culminating in the General Enclosures Act of 1845, which resulted in many people being turned off their land and forced to leave their homes, when they had no choice but to make their way into the towns where some found employment in very poor conditions while others just became paupers. (At that time farmers were people who had not learned to read and write and they did not understand what was going on or how to defend themselves against it.)

This is the source of real POVERTY as we know it today, now become such a widespread and critical problem. The major landowners are the larger dukedoms and the Church of England, which has become the largest of them all (in terms of value) although one might suppose it to be more interested in spiritual matters. (The Forestry Commission holds a greater acreage, much of it scrubland in need of reclamation through reafforestation.)

Because money from renting land has thus passed into private hands it has also become necessary for the government to raise money for its budget expenditure in the shape of taxes. Taxation is a great burden on both industry and people. It should not be necessary. Collecting the rent for the land, which is fixed in location and extent, is a very much easier, and therefore inexpensive, process than collecting taxes, with all that that entails – collectors, inspectors, police, courts, gaols. It is reckoned that land rent would provide sufficient  funds for a reasonable budget so that taxation would not be necessary at all.

The idea of land rent a still persists and was brought into prominence again in the 19th century with the coming of the American, Henry George. With the building of the transcontinental railway in his country he saw for himself how the worthless, inaccessible  land suddenly acquired value and he realised that the value was in reality due to the increased accessibility of the land to the people as a whole and recommended that it be appropriated for the whole community (to whom it properly belonged). He devoted the rest of his life to advocating the justice and tremendous economic advantages to be obtained from this system and he described it in his great work “Progress and Poverty” and other works, also travelling all over the world to speak about it.

Today, the idea of the collection of land rent for the community persists and a substantial number of people in many countries support it, also collaborating and holding triennial conferences in different countries.

The idea of the “ownership” of land is plainly ridiculous. Like all else, we come from the earth and return to it. And nobody had a hand in its making. The land existed for some thousands of millions of years before man, a late-comer, came to live on it but not many people understand the consequences that spring from this, especially among today’s predominantly urban populations for whom things quite obviously come from supermarkets rather than the land.

The people who oppose land rent are the “owners” (of course), supported by all the power and wealth they gain from it and by economists and others holding important positions to protect their interest. It is further obscured by the confusions of modern government.

The practice of deriving State revenue from the rent of the land must come back in the end if only because nothing else will work properly. This would not mean anyone losing their homes or places of work, only that people who hold land would now pay rent for it and nobody would pay taxes as they do now. The only ones who might think twice about it are those who are holding land out of proper use purely for speculative gain. This would become unprofitable. Any such land released might be used to increase housing, schools, farming and for industrial purposes, which would all benefit the community and add further to the flourishing of prosperity.

Unfortunately, about a two-thirds majority of the human race does not think very well (I.Q. below 120) and, not appreciating logical arguments, tend to leave complicated matters to others. Because they are a majority they must necessarily increase faster than the rest of the population. There is danger here. It may be that man will destroy himself before the necessary lessons can be learned. But life will continue. And time has no end. Perhaps in about another million years………..?


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