2.1.4 & 2.2.1-4: The Problem of the Modern World

1.4 In 1885, Wilson A. Bentley, a self-educated farmer, became the first person to photograph a single snowflake using a microscope combined with a bellows camera. http://snowflakebentley.com/
Bentley demonstrated that if you take the time to look deeply and have the proper equipment you can discover amazing structures. As a student of this course you are on a quest to learn more about land rights and the land tool called “land value capture.” Our next mode of discovery will draw from a line of thought buried within the history of land economics.

Module 1, Section 2.1-4

The Problem of the Modern World

2.1 In his essay “The Problem of the Modern World” John Mohawk states, “When land became a ‘commodity’ and lost its status as provider and sustainer of life, Western civilization began its history of subjugation and exploitation of the earth and earth based cultures. For nearly five centuries people have been coerced from their landholdings. The problem, in the English-speaking world, has its roots in the sixteenth century.”
earth in shopping cart

2.2 Before land privatization, industrialization, and the widespread use of money as a medium of exchange, people everywhere on earth lived in tribes which had defined territories. There were rules of access whereby people of diverse tribes could enter each other’s territories. Within a tribe there were rules and customs regarding land utilization. Sometimes the chief allocated and re-allocated land sites for clans and individual families. Land rights and control often passed to elder sons. Yet there were tribes, for example the Hopi of the American southwest, that passed the decision making over land allocation to a family’s youngest daughter.

Homeless French man in Parisred car in display window above man with bike cart

2.3 Conflicts between tribes were usually border clashes over territory. Violence between human beings has been with us since thigh bones were used to bash in human sculls. One way or another new land rules would be established in peace treaties. However, it is important to note that in tribal societies there were no prisons. No one starved while others feasted. No one was homeless while others were sheltered from the elements. Times of both plenty and scarcity were shared by all.

2.4 Today’s world sees enormous wealth existing sometimes literally alongside abject poverty. The inventive capacities of human beings and the freedom to produce and exchange wealth have given us the possibility that everyone on earth could have their basic needs securely met with plenty of leisure time to develop mental, spiritual and creative potentials. The fact of persistent poverty and shrinking middle classes within developed countries indicates that there is something deeply flawed within the depths of the so-called “market system” structures. The fact that there are hundreds of millions of homeless people on our planet, that tens of thousands starve to death every day, and that more than a billion of us live in abject poverty when there is indeed “enough for everyone” is a stark reminder that some great, underlying injustice exists on earth.


2.5 Module One of this course brought to focus the reality that only a few people have come to own and control vastly more than their fair share of the land and natural resources of the planet. We will now briefly trace how the tribal land tenure systems of Europe transformed into market systems in which land came to be bought and sold and treated as a commodity for speculation and profiteering. Understanding this process should shed light on the difficulties that the people of Africa and elsewhere have faced in their efforts to move from colonialism into democratic structures of post-colonialism.


There is a frenzy now across the country by the rich and powerful in Cambodia to acquire land. - Miloon Kothari, UN special rapporteur on adequate housing, news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/4207138.stm