Thank you for inviting me to speak today about the relationship between property law and inequality – a topic that receives far too little attention. This should not be surprising. Now that free-market ideology has become the default worldview and political consensus around the world, private property is seen as synonymous with freedom, economic growth and human progress.
Oh yes, there is this nasty side issue known as inequality. Malcontents like the Occupy movement and renegade economists like Thomas Pikketty have brought this problem to the fore after years of neglect. Their success has been quite an achievement because for years the very existence of inequality has been portrayed as an accident, an aberration, a mysterious and shadowy guest at the grand banquet of human progress.
I wish to argue that hunger, poverty, inadequate education and medical care, and assaults on human dignity and human rights, are not bugs in the system. They arefeatures. Indeed, market ideologues often argue that such deprivations are a necessary incentive to human enterprise and economic growth; poverty is supposedly needed to spur people to escape through the work ethic and entrepreneurialism.
Property rights lie at the heart of this dynamic because they are a vital tool for defining and patrolling the boundaries of private wealth, and for justifying the inevitably unequal outcomes. So it’s important that we focus on the role of property rights in producing social inequality – without ignoring the many other forces, including social practice, culture and politics, that also play important roles.
…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…
“Enclosures have appropriately been called a revolution of the rich against the poor.”
Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation. 1944. (p. 35)
Shared access, reliance, use and governance of natural resources is a common form of tenure in the world, North and South, rural and urban. The specific rules and institutions that govern common property are very diverse, developed by communities groups on their own direct experience and reflecting their priorities. Where well managed, such systems have proven capable of preserving the long term health of the resources and sustained benefits to the community relying on them. Common spaces are under increasing threat – their resources are grabbed for private interests, mined and degraded for short term gains. A critical factor in this is the weakening of common property management systems, undermined as the paradigms of privatisation and market commodification have dominated policy development. Networks and movements of the poor around the world are reacting to the destruction of their natural resources, and standing up in defence of the commons and the common property systems which sustain them. This article identifies some of the threats to the commons and highlights the resistance of local people.
The commons refer to forms of wealth that belong to all of us and that must be actively protected and managed for the good of all. Commons can be natural, such as air, water, land, forests and biodiversity; social and institutional, such as public goods, spaces and services; political, such as collectively held notions of democracy, justice and governance; and intellectual and cultural, such as general knowledge, everyday technology, shared music and scientific truths.
– See more at: http://commonstransition.org/in-defense-of-the-commons/#sthash.M2tM7XzW.dpuf