Addressing the moral shortcomings of land ownership

Morals and land ownership don’t mix well (if at all). How does it sound to be born on a planet only to find that all land is already owned by others and... they want you off their property? What can be done about this? I propose the following approach.

Create a not-for-profit and endow it with one hectare of land. Enshrine in the bylaws that the purpose is to ensure such land is to be shared by ALL people, in perpetuity. Divide land in 100 lots of 100 sqm each. Once a year rent them all out on 12 month terms. The rent will be zero, but renters must pledge to personally cultivate.

If more people want to rent than the available lots, require everybody to donate 10% of the crop to the foundation (without however trying to enforce compliance... simply rely on goodwill). Use such funds to buy more land to cover demand. If few people want to rent… offer two lots per person.

Designate a 1600 sqm in the center as public park with trees/benches, a water well and tool storage. This will facilitate farming, expand the benefit to more people, and educate the community about the initiative’s purpose.

I got this idea after meeting a farmer on the slope of Mount Talinis, near Dumaguete. He was farming land owned by someone else. He had to give 50% of the crop to an owner who wasn’t putting in any effort. That friendly gentleman would like this.

Funds allowing, this project could be attempted in several communities. Some attempts will not work or fail the test of time. But that’s OK as long as many other will live on, flourish and educate people about practical ways to share land at a small, community-level scale.

The moral way is to share ALL land for the benefit of ALL people. This project is a tiny attempt, but it’s practical and has potential. Nice ideas rally nice people behind them, I hope this will be the case here.

Making it possible for people that don’t have any other choice to farm land without being exploited would be a great achievement. But what really drives my enthusiasm for this initiative is… it’s theoretical ability to grow until all land is made available to everybody. This wouldn’t happen anytime soon obviously, but it is a theoretical possibility: if demand for lots is too high then the 10% voluntary donation would buy more land and increase the supply (simple enough).

I imagine people would be quite happy to contribute to an initiative that, on one hand, allows them to escape harsh exploitation from land owners requiring higher rents, and, on the other hand, makes it more likely that lots will be available for them in future years.

Anther advantage (perhaps the most important) of farming free-land is that the brutal possibility of a bad crop driving the farmer into (potentially) inescapable debt is eliminated: since the 10% donation is neither enforced nor collected in advance... such nefarious development cannot materialize.

The underlying reasoning

Basically the problem this idea tries to solve is that… land owners use land ownership to exploit people that don’t own land. These “landless” people do have human capital (their capacity to farm), but such capital is wasted if farm land is not available to them (this vulnerability is what allows land owners to exploit). The way out of this situation is to allow the farming capacity to bear fruit (by providing some farm land), and then use a small portion of the crop to gradually increase the amount of farm land available. Since farmland is finite but the capacity to farm is not (if viewed as a perpetuity), it follows that, in the very long term, this could theoretically lead to all land being shared by all. In a sense, the idea is using exploitation against itself (it’s using exploitation to defeat exploitation): as long as exploitation is ongoing the demand for free lots will be insufficient and make people willing to contribute 10% toward buying more land, the increased supply of lots in turn will ultimately undermine the ability of land owners to exploit. The Japanese martial arts jujutsu (precursor of judo) was developed around the principle of using an attacker's energy against him, rather than directly opposing it. However it’s not jujutsu that inspired the above method but rather Warren Buffett’s approach to donating his personal fortune. I basically borrowed that idea and substituted the stock portfolio with farmland.

A more radical approach (separate from the above project) would be to have the government raise land taxes to a level that brings the market price of land to basically zero (the tax should be tailored to each property and be updated periodically).

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