Apr 102020

… is a slogan invented by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. Frequently used and abused by those with no clear understanding of what it means.

The first thing to note is that it is just a slogan and a nineteenth century slogan at that. It isn’t necessary for it to be taken literally.

Secondly it does not refer to all property but specifically to land ownership, and needs to be understood in the context of nineteenth century grand estates owned by aristocrats.

Aristocrats had built up huge estates over many centuries; and not always by simply buying it. Feudal land grants from kings were originally more like rents – “I give you this land for your lifetime; in return you owe me military service to include 10 knights and 200 men at arms when I call”. Originally for a lifetime but gradually became inheritable and the military service that was owed as “rent”? That gradually faded away as kings found more professional armies were more reliable.

Laws were often arranged to protect large land holdings – for instance Scotland had a law that protected estates from being broken up and sold off during bankruptcy – effectively protecting the fundamental wealth of an aristocratic family from their creditors.

Lastly those close to the bottom of the rung of the rural community who saw in just a few short generations change from protected feudal client (roughly the equivalent of a tenant farmer) through to a day worker who could be discarded on a moment’s notice. At the same time, enclosures took away “common land” (which every member of the community could use for grazing, etc.) and gave it to local land owners.

In a real sense, this is where the notion that property is theft comes from – in many ways, although legally done, land was in some cases stolen.

When you come down to it, is it any wonder 19th century radicals were steaming at the ears at the land ownership of the elites?

But Today?

But is it still relevant or appropriate today?

Well yes and no. Certainly as a campaigning slogan it does apply. 

In the intervening decades, a number of laws have been introduced to mitigate the worst aspects of the landlord (in the most general sense of the word) tenant relationship, but there are still many, many opportunities for abuse.

It is one thing when a landlord is the owner of one or two properties and quite another when a landlord owns a large enough portfolio of properties to distort the local market. And in my history of renting homes, the later is far more common than the former (although this might be peculiar to my location). 

One of the biggest problems is that property prices (and rents) have inflated far faster than salaries (or wages) which is fundamentally a problem of supply and demand. Supply is always going to be limited (creating new land is rare).

Demand is split into property investment by the rich, and homes for everyone. The former limits the supply for the later, and in the case of property shortages (and excess costs), it is arguably true that the former should be suppressed in some manner.


Before considering how to get from a world of private ownership of property to a world where that doesn’t exist, let us consider how a world without land ownership might work.

Land could be “owned” by the community as a whole, and a lifetime tenancy granted to people with an appropriate use case. With an appropriate rent owed – a monthly payment, profit share, etc.

At the end of the leasehold (when the leaseholder dies or gives up the lease for whatever reason), the community compensates the leaseholder for improvements – buildings constructed, land improvements, etc.  And the leaseholder compensates the community for any neglect of the land (and any buildings on it) – environmental, necessary repairs, etc. 

The community could look at any land returned to it and make decisions on such matters as whether it should be sub-divided – is a 6-bedroom house on a half-acre of land suitable for an inner city?

There are undoubtedly problems large and small with a solution to land such as this; but there are problems large and small with our current solution to land.

Whilst we have tinkered with land ownership rights and wrongs, we have not yet thrown the rulebook away and started again. Don’t give up on the idea just because it is not done the way it has “always been done”.


The Red Door
Aug 192016

Of course it doesn’t. Anyone who claims so needs their brain rebooted.

This topic came up on an online discussion where there were many comments indicating a poorly conceived belief that a “not guilty” verdict from a court means “innocent”.

In a criminal case the court has to decide whether there is enough evidence to determine if the accused can be found guilty in the opinion of the court. The legal system very wisely knows that whilst it has the job of determining truth (as part of dispensing justice), it cannot do that so restricts itself to determining whether there is sufficient evidence to find someone guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

That means those who get a “not guilty” verdict comprise two groups – those who are innocent, and those who are guilty, but there is sufficient doubt over their guilt that they cannot be found guilty. Any policeman (or woman) will tell you that those found “not guilty” include plenty of people who really are guilty, but the evidence isn’t sufficient.

We have a legal system where there is a presumption of innocence – the old saying is that it is better that 99 guilty criminals go free than 1 innocent person be convicted. The legal system assumes that mistakes will be made (quite rightly – the decisions are made by people), and weighs the system heavily in favour of ensuring that mistakes result in people going free when they are guilty.

It does this by asking the jury to decide if the accused is guilty; not whether they are innocent. And they must have no reasonable doubts over the guilt of the accused. In a perfect situation a simple question has a black or white answer – the accused is guilty or innocent; in the real world we all know there are grey areas – there is plenty of evidence showing that the accused killed the victim, but she has a good alibi.

Where a case becomes grey and there is sufficient doubt, the verdict should be “not guilty” even if the accused was probably guilty.

The Edge

Aug 172010

The government have announced that they plan to ban clamping cars who park illegally in the new year. The excuse is that “rogue” clampers are endemic to the industry and despite a number of attempts at cleaning up the industry, they survive. Of course anyone who has been clamped is celebrating.

But is it really a good thing?

We have heard on the news from clampers and victims of clamping, but we have not heard from anyone who employs clampers to protect their property. And it is not always evil people who see a money-making opportunity. Sometimes there are good reasons to protect against illegal parking.

Many people perhaps do not realise just how aggravating and potentially dangerous illegal parking can be. Taking an extreme at the low end where clamping currently is not employed (but should be!), my flat is in a block which has a small narrow courtyard behind the building which is open to the road.

There are admittedly no notices up to indicate that parking is illegal, but you would have to be really dumb not to realise that it is private property. Parking there not only means that the council frequently finds it difficult to collect the rubbish, but the area is supposed to be kept clear as it is a fire exit and access for fire engines in the event of a fire. People parking there put the resident’s lives at risk.

Do they care ? Don’t make me laugh. On almost every day, there will be two or three cars parked there.

Feb 252010

Today we’ve had the news that the UK’s prosecution service has issued guidelines on where people will be prosecuted in cases of assisted suicide. Basically people won’t be if they assist someone provided they stick to certain conditions. Fair enough. But there’s a bit of a problem here – we’re in danger of allowing some groups of people who wish their life to end to be allowed their wish and others not to.

Part of the problem is the use of the phrase euthanasia which is mistakenly believed to imply “putting down” those people who are in dire straits with or without their consent. In particular people are worried that euthanasia opens the door to killing those who are inconveniently lingering. Such killings have occurred throughout history and are probably occurring today.

Assisted suicide is not euthanasia – the key is the word suicide – it is an active decision by someone to end their life. Ordinary suicide is of course legal (at least now), but assisting someone’s suicide remains illegal. So anyone in extremis who needs help in ending their life needs to find someone who is prepared to undertake the risk of prosecution to help out.

There are two problems with this. Firstly it limits the availability of assisted suicide to those who do have a friend or lover prepared to take the risk. Not everyone has such a close relationship with someone else, so we are essentially saying that such people have no way out of an intolerable situation – is that fair ?

Secondly, as assisted suicide remains illegal, it is something that is carried out stealthily in private with no oversight. It is easy to see that there are any number of possible abuses here – murder could in some circumstances be disguised as assisted suicide. And we certainly do not want to make murder any easier to get away with.

What we need is to legalise assisted suicide and require some form of procedure to make it more open and subject to oversight. In particular we need to ensure that other avenues are explored – we need to ensure that people do not opt for assisted suicide when other options are available.

Today’s announcement was essentially the easy way out – it doesn’t give those in favour of assisted suicide what they want and neither are those opposed happy about it. Whilst legalising assisted suicide will also not make those opposed happy, they need to understand that keeping it illegal won’t stop it.

Nov 012009

It is now clear that the UK’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs is in danger of disintegration as additional members seem to be considering (or have) resigned in protest at the sacking of Professor Nutt and the seemingly arbitrary decisions made by the Government on the use of recreational drug use.  There has long been a suspicion that the Government’s (all UK governments and not just the most recent one!) decisions on which drugs should be legal and which ones illegal, is based more on which ones are acceptable to the establishment and which ones are not.

The UK’s system of drugs laws is based around three classes of drugs (A, B, and C) with a decreasing scale of punishments for misuse from the harshest for the use of the most harmful drugs (class A) to the lightest punishment for the least harmful (class C). Or rather it should be.

Both the classification of Ecstasy (as class A) and the re-classification of cannabis (from C to B) were made by ignoring the scientific advice and paying more attention to media hysteria. Both are classified higher than the risk of taking them justifies. What other drugs have been classified inappropriately?

If the government wants to make arbitrary decisions on drugs classifications, they need to get honest and get rid of the whole classification system. And they need to stop taking advice from scientists – taking advice and then ignoring it wastes a great deal of time on those who formulate the advice, and if the advice is ignored there is no point in getting it.

Alternatively, the government needs to accept the advice of the experts and get the politicians out of the loop. Even to go so far as to include legal drugs into the classification system. For instance why are not alcohol and tobacco not classified appropriately ? They could be classified according to their harm with a special note that they are legal for practical reasons.

Over the weekend, the criticisms of Professor Nutt can be split into two.

The first criticism is that he shouldn’t have said what he said as a government advisor. Well I’m sure Professor Nutt knows this, knew he would be sacked for saying what he said, and felt that he had to say it anyway. He has certainly managed to ignite a debate on the subject.

The second criticism is that he is wrong that drugs such as cannabis are less harmful than the drugs they are classified with. First of all Professor Nutt was not saying that cannabis is harmless; he was saying that it’s harm does not justify it being classified as class B (it should be C instead). Secondly those criticising him seem to think that their personal (bad) experience with cannabis invalidates the scientific evidence.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Scientific evidence (on drug use) is about moving beyond personal experience both good and bad, and getting to the truth on the level of risk. There are many who would claim that cannabis is harmless because it hasn’t caused them any harm (man), and some who would claim it is very harmful because it has harmed them. Both are wrong – cannabis is harmful, but the amount of harm considering the number of users is very low.

As an analogy, the use of aspirin can cause stomach ulcers, stomach bleeding, and tinnitus. Rather extreme for curing a little headache! Perhaps aspirin should be banned ? Of course not – the benefit far outweighs the risk.

In an ideal world, the current fuss over Professor Nutt’s lecture and drugs policy will result in seeing some sanity in drug prohibition – perhaps even we would see the legalisation of drugs (prohibition probably causes far more harm to society as a whole than the harm resulting from drug use). However it is more likely that we will see more gross stupidity.

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