Module 2, Sections 6.5-6: Land Value Scape
Module 2, Sections 6.5-6
6.5 LandValueScapes help reveal what is going on around us in terms of changes to property and land values, so that we are better informed in government, business and as citizens when we make decisions about ‘place’. They are important visual “land tools” for both urban planning and the topic of this course – land rights and land value capture. You will be learning about this and other land value capture tools in Module 5 of this course.
6.6 Please view: Ricardo’ Law – The Great Tax Clawback Scam – Fred Harrison on YouTube describes the scam of “progressive” taxation and how families on the lowest income levels subsidize the lives of the rich. www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ZkfmY1PMng This video is the conclusion to Module 2 and will serve as a summary of sorts of the key points you have learned. It will also be helpful as an introduction to the land value capture policy you will learn about in Module 3. After viewing this video you may continue on to Module 3 or else first learn more about The Enclosures from this Optional Reading:
More on Enclosures
Thomas More (1478-1535), Chancellor of England, who some say was the most learned justice and scholar in the realm at the time, made passionate pleas against the cruel injustices when whole villages were being pulled down to make way for the more profitable industry of sheep farming and families were turned adrift onto the roads to starve. His plan for a better England was based upon a thorough Common Ownership. More was murdered as a martyr. The root meaning of this word martyr is “one who remembers and cares.”
In England in 1648 the Diggers were sounding a lot like land rights prophets. Gerrard Winstanley, in his New Law of Righteousness, clearly saw the forces at play when he said, “The rich, in their enclosure saying ‘this is mine’ and the poor upon the commons saying ‘this is ours, the earth and its fruits are common.’ ... Leave off dominion and lordship one over another for the whole bulk of mankind are but one living earth!”
Over several hundred years 4,000 Private Acts of Enclosure were passed covering some 7,000,000 acres. Probably the same sized area was enclosed without application to Parliament. About two thirds involved open fields belonging to cottagers while one third involved commons such as woodland and heath. In the census of 1086, more than half the arable land belonged to the villagers. By 1876, only 2,225 people owned half the agricultural land in England and Wales and that 0.6 per cent of the population owned 98.5 per cent of it. As newer agricultural methods and technologies were applied, landowners could raise the rents of their lands by phenomenal amounts. As the cash economy developed, the rent money accumulated into the hands of the landholders and the plight of the people worsened. To survive, they sometimes were forced to borrow money from the landholders at high rates of interest.
Ireland’s story at the end of the Enclosures period is that of many in the Third World today. In 1801 Britain made Ireland part of its empire and dissolved the Irish Parliament. By now the Protestants had the upper hand and were given a voice in the British Parliament while the Catholic majority had none. Heavy taxation was placed on Irish goods, and the British controlled almost all of Ireland’s farmland. Tenant farmers had to give their entire crops to the landlords as rent. When their subsistence potato crops failed from blight, there was nothing to fall back on. Some three million people died of starvation and disease between 1845 and 1849, while one million fled to the US and Canada. Ireland’s population of eight million was cut in half. During the famine Ireland exported to England enough grain, cattle, pigs, butter and eggs “to feed the Irish people twice over” as one Irish historian put it. This information is from an article by Elizabeth Ward called “When Ireland was Europe’s Ethiopia.”
Until the 16th century the Church was the Catholic Church. Its corruptions provoked the rise of Protestant Reformism. In 1524 the peasants of Swabia, a region in what is now Germany, brought Martin Luther a document Twelve Articles, appealing to him for his understanding. The peasants said it was their intention “to excuse in a Christian way the disobedience and even the rebellion of the peasants” and to describe “the basic and chief articles ... concerning the matters in which they feel they are being denied their rights.” The peasants based each one of their Articles on specific chapters and verses of the Old and New Testament. They requested release from serfdom, relief from heavy taxation, fair and just laws, and access to what was once their commons - the forests, fields and water resources - to meet their basic needs. In response Luther wrote his Admonition to Peace urging the princes to be kind and the peasants to be peaceful and the appointment of an arbitration commission. Before the Admonition to Peace could be published, the land was flooded with insurrection, arson, pillage, and murder.
The disturbances among the peasants were establishing an association between the Reformation and revolution that was alienating many of Luther’s supporters while his refusal to identify the Reformation with the program of The Twelve Articles antagonized many of the common people. For Luther the real problem was to defeat the Devil. It was more important to him that law and order be maintained and the gospel be preached than that the pleas of the peasants be addressed. The peasants had gone to Luther for moral and spiritual support and to respectfully communicate their conditions and requests to him. Instead of standing in solidarity with the poor and oppressed as Jesus had done, Luther wrote pamphlets calling for the punishment of “the thieving, murderous gangs of peasants.” Regarding the peasants as unruly pagans, Luther believed their rebellions were instigated by Satan.
Beginning with the first act of enclosure and throughout the following period of several hundred years, as the land was enclosed the women and men and the earth based religion of the peoples of northern Europe were brutally repressed. Women who practiced healing and agriculture, who had their own lands and were leaders of their communities were tortured, hanged, or burned at the stake. The Holy Inquisitions was a women’s holocaust; about 85 percent of those killed were women. Some say their murders numbered in the millions. I consider this to be the most significant story of the past two thousand years for women of European descent. Much of what we have learned about history is just that - “his story.” The women’s holocaust is a terrible “her story” and my sisters are still recovering on deep levels of their collective psyche from that horrific repression, torture and murder. The European indigenous women were strong and clear wild women with equal status to their men. They could stand their ground because they had access to the common lands. The imperial forces called them witches. Martin Luther said, “I would have no compassion on the witches! I would burn them all.”
How did the forces of Christianity, based upon the stories of a loving, healing Jesus, come to be aligned with the forces of an imperialist state and a corrupted church? To answer this question let us now fast forward to the twentieth century and the questions of a man in another part of this world.
Early Christian Teachings
Charles Avila was a Catholic seminarian in the Philippines in the 1960s. One of his professors in the Divine Word Seminary constantly criticized the Church’s utter lack of identification with the poor. He persuaded Avila and other students to accompany him on his regular visits to prisoners in various Philippine jails. During his visits Avila heard story after story of how these people had been evicted from lands they had tilled for generations. He came to realize that what was referred to as “the Peasant Question” was literally that: the question the peasants asked. It was a question on the level of “first principles” which are very rarely subjected to review, but which form the threshold of all our thinking. The Peasant Question was this: ‘What is just with regard to the land?’
Avila learned from the leading lawyer in the peasant movement that the philosophy of ownership which was the basis of property laws and practices in the Philippines, as well as of most modern legal systems, actually went a long way back in history - all the way back to Roman law. Roman law developed the ownership concept which legitimized the accumulation of wealth by a few at the expense of the impoverishment of the many. As Avila was thinking about a topic for his seminary dissertation, he wondered whether there might be early Christian philosophers of the period of the Roman Empire who had anything significant to say about the ownership concept. Most of the faculty warned him that he would be wasting his time pursuing this topic; his social justice professor, however, urged him to dig into the Latin and Greek writings concerning that period.
Avila scoured through 383 volumes and discovered that the early Christian leaders indeed had all dealt with the question of ownership and Roman law. The writings he discovered were of great assistance to the Filipino peasant movement. In 1983 Avila published his research and these patristic writings as a book entitled Ownership: Early Christian Teachings. Over and over again, Avila found, early Christians had railed against the Roman law concept of ownership as an “exclusive and unlimited right to dispose of a thing, to the exclusion of all others.” The Roman land law of “dominium” meant the legalization of property in land originally obtained by conquest and plunder. The original Judeo-Christian land ethic had been that of koinonia - land was God’s gift to the community as a whole for the autarkeia or self-sufficient livelihood of all.
One of Jesus’s tasks was to restore the original intent of the Jubilee, the period every fifty years when lands were to be returned to their original owners or their heirs: “[The Lord] has anointed me to preach good news to the poor..to proclaim release of captives...to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” As theologian Walter Brueggeman explains in Land: the Foundation of Humanness the “acceptable year” is the year of the Jubilee. The “release of captives” is the release of debt slaves who had lost their land because they could not pay their mortgage. A crucial aspect of Jesus’s mission was the re-assertion of the land rights of the poor and displaced. The Bible expresses the fundamental recognition that the earth is the Lord’s, to be fairly shared and stewarded by all:
The land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with me. (Lev. 25:23)
The profit of the earth is for all. (Eccles. 5:9)
Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place. (Isaiah 5:8)
Restore, I pray you, to them even this day, their lands, their vineyards, their olive yards, and their houses. (Nehemiah 5:11).
(More quotes from the Ancients, Spiritual and Religious teachings are in the Quotes section.)
Christianity lost its mission of economic justice when it became the official religion of the Roman Empire and was adapted to or grafted onto, the Roman land law of dominium. From that time forward Christianity went hand-in-hand with the forces of conquest of the land-grabbing imperialist state. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said, “Before the Europeans came to Africa, we had the land and they had the Bible. We bowed our heads to pray, and when we opened our eyes, we had the Bible and they had the land.”
The important and vital truth not enunciated or affirmed in our founding democratic covenants is the truth that we, each and every one of us, has an equal right to the earth as our birthright. How did we lose this simple truth, the primal perception that the earth is the birthright of all people?