Land enclosures in England took centuries

UnknownAndro Linklater’s book Owning the Earth – the Transforming History of Land Ownership is a fascinating chronicle in the history of civilisation.

If you think that land speculation is something modern contemplate this: Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s lord chancellor was big speculator. Here is Andro Linklater on the topic:
“In three frenzied years, from 1537 to 1539, he bought almost twenty properties in the southeast of England at a cost of £38,000, then sold most of them again for a total profit of more than £4000…..

But the profit to be made from the rising price of land was irresistible. When the mighty abbey of Tewksbury lost its lands near the south coast, a wealthy London cloth merchant, Sir Robert Palmer, bought three of its manors in 1540 for £1255, and immediately cleared off the villeins and cottagers. Then he turned on the tenants, harassing them and even breaking into their homes.”

Jump two centuries forward and the enclosures are well advanced. He writes “The rising price of land triggered a new surge in enclosure. Much of England’s farmland had continued to be cultivated as ‘open fields’ with some common rights of pasturing livestock, and almost a quarter remained communally owned and used. It was a measure of the landowners’ influence in Parliament that more than four thousand ‘Inclosure acts’ were passed between 1700 and 1830, allowing their promoters to hedge and fence in most of this land as private, exclusive property….. Altogether some seven million acres were transferred into private ownership through the enclosure orders, brutal testimony to the political power now wielded by landowners. In many cases compensation was paid, but the total value of enclosed land represented the transfer of about £175million of assets from communal possession to the lawyers, merchants and wealthy landowners who controlled Parliament.”

Why did landowners want to enclose their property? Because they ran sheep and when the sheep were confined to one area bounded by hedges or ditches or stone walls, they manured the soil. The word ‘manure’ also meant ‘improve’. Their land was then more productive.

So let’s go back to 1485 and follow it through.

1485 Henry V11 first year on the throne
1489 The land revolution was well underway. Henry legislated to stop engrossment
1536 Pilgrimage of Grace opposes enclosures
1549 Robert Kett’s rebellion against enclosures. None statutes and 3 government commissions designed to prevent ploughland being turned into pasture and highways being thronged with homeless who were dispossessed of their land.

1517-1537 fines or imprisonment for those who enclosed land including 264 peers, bishops and knights.
1533 Inheritance issue. Struggle was won by the landowners and Henry V111 found that he was short of taxes.

Sharing the rents brings social justice – solution to the Auckland housing crisis

imagesDuring Parliament’s question time there are always a lot of questions about house affordability, especially in Auckland. The National government’s solution to rising house prices is just “release more land”. And the Prime Minister usually replies that home affordability was worse when Labour was in government because that included the period leading up to the Global Financial Crisis. Stalemate. Election year biffo. They then go on to questions about poverty, especially child poverty. In New Zealand, ever since Helen Clark introduced an income support scheme called Working for Families anti-poverty groups have rightly pointed out that as it only goes to families in work, children of beneficiaries are the ones that miss out and that is unfair.

Sadly nobody in Parliament ever raises the issue that when “land owners” monopolise land without paying a full rent to the public for the privilege, the rental they should have paid just capitalises into the market value of their homes. Rent is thus privately captured not publicly captured. That capital gain doesn’t belong to them. The very meaning of “freehold” land is land without rent. When settlers came to New Zealand from England in the late 1800s what they wanted was to stand on a piece of land and know that a landlord couldn’t push them off. But the English colonists brought with them their very entrenched legal system of land ownership and imposed on the Maori a strange concept they called “ownership of land”. It was the land tenure system together with the English banking system which was at the very heart of the colonisation process.

Leaving aside the banking system for the moment, let’s concentrate on the land tenure system. When land is held in common, land tenure is about rights to use land. What the settlers really wanted was security of tenure and they wrongly equated this with a freehold land ownership arrangement. Indigenous people share the rights to use the land with others in their iwi or tribe or in their hapu or subtribe through a complicated system different in each iwi or hapu. Colonisation changed the land tenure system and introduced commercial banks.

We are coming up to a general election and the Labour Party, Mana and the Internet Party are all showing concern to engage and enrol the one million non-voters from last election. The Internet Party rightly makes it easy to join a party and participate, through their clever use of smartphone apps and discussion websites.

But what better way to engage young disaffected voters than to share the land rents? Wouldn’t they be delighted it a political party said it was going to charge a full land rental and share it with them by giving them a Citizens Dividend from time to time?

Let’s have a look at the home values in central Auckland suburbs for a start. Parnell, Mission Bay, Mt Eden, Epsom, Herne Bay, Ponsonby and Grey Lynn houses have risen in value by probably an annual rate of exceeding 10% over the last year. In some cases it is 14%, but let’s take the lower value. An article the other day in the Weekend Herald showed a three bedroom home in Grey Lynn for sale at $895,000 and the subsequent text showed it had probably risen at least $103,000 in the last year. What land tax did that owner pay? Rates contain land tax but actually everyone pays on their capital value these days. (by legislation when the supercity was formed, no choice these days like we used to have). So if every home in the inner suburbs has a capital value rise of say an average of $100,000, just think of that accumulated rental which has been privately captured in the inner Auckland suburbs. This rental rightly belongs to the public because it is government both central and local that has paid for the infrastructure, the hospitals, schools and parks and it is the public which has provided the inner city shops and businesses and activities. Suppose there are 100,000 homes in those inner suburbs each rising by $100,000 in a year. That is a capital gain of $10,000,000,000. Yes it is $10 billion which rightly belongs to the public and we haven’t even tried to calculate the rising value of the CBD and Parnell and Newmarket and Ponsonby shops and offices. This total will be far higher.

Dividing this three-way between central and local government and the 4.4m citizens of New Zealand is the next challenge. But for electoral purposes it would make very good sense to give out a citizens dividend straight away. Let’s, for instance, use $4.4 billion of the $10 billion. That is $1000 per citizen. When dependents get it, the money is taken by the designated carer, usually a woman. So a woman with three children would get $4000 a year from this dividend. Nice one. A young solo mother in Northland or Hastings or Greymouth. Since she is on a benefit she doesn’t get Working for Families. She spends it on the basics of food. The next dividend would bring more. When land rents are shared everyone gains. Labour spokesperson on Welfare Jacinda Ardern would not have to think up anything more complicated than this to right the wrong of children in poverty. It would answer the “Feed the Children” plea of The Mana Party.

I have discovered Fred Harrison's site http://www.sharetherents.org/ where his videos tell a great many stories about the value of sharing the land rent. Fred Harrison is a long time campaigner for sharing land rents.

Labour and the Greens both go into the election advocating a Capital Gains Tax on property that isn’t the family home. Unfortunately the Greens have chosen a 15% Capital Gains Tax. That means when a house is sold (and only then) the Government gets a small fraction of the total rent. The property “owner” gets to keep the 85% that rightly belongs to the public. Well I guess it is a start, but honestly it is an extremely timid policy when you see the whole logic of sharing the rents.

Nobody in this whole debate has raised the issue of how many vacant sections there are in Auckland. If speculators are sitting on sections and not paying much (the council even slashes their rates) then naturally they will continue to speculate. A Capital Gains Tax will only delay the sale even further. You must make people pay for the privilege of "owning" land, or monopolising it. If speculators had to pay a full land rental rather than reduced rates, that would spur them into action. Either they would build or they would sell.