Land as community property

Via Gene Callahan:

“Reading James C. Scott’s excellent Seeing Like a State. He gives, as an example of how land was traditionally held, the following: “Rural living in seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Denmark, for example, was organized by ejerlav, whose members had certain rights for using local arable, waste, and forest land. It would had have been impossible in such a community to associate a household or individual with a particular holding on a cadastral map.”

This is just an example of the way land was typically held before the current system of clearly defined freehold of lots was imposed by the state on a reluctant society, and not by any process of “mixing one’s labor” with virgin land. Land was owned by communities first.

I fully anticipate the objection, “But communities can’t own anything!” Like “Only individuals choose,” this is an obvious falsehood which is embraced precisely because it defends radically individualistic property arrangements against the force of historical truths such as those noted by Scott.”

3 Comments Land as community property

  1. AvatarSepp Hasslberger

    Scott’s observation is in harmony with what has been proposed by Silvio Gesell in the early part of the 20th century: It’s the communities that should hold title to the land in their areas. Individuals, families and businesses can then work that land, they can build on it, and their assets are protected by long term leases. It provides a source of income to the community (which would no longer be dependent on a share of national or federal taxes) and it provides a measure of control to the community over how the land is used. Eco-compatible use, for instance, can be enforced if the community is the land owner and individuals and groups are the holders of long term contracts of use.

  2. AvatarTodd S.

    Actually, I would say it is correct that a community cannot own anything. What I see in that scenario is a system of un-ownership whereby land is free of all ties until it is being employed in some fashion.

  3. AvatarSepp Hasslberger

    I would say there is no legal impediment for a community (that is a village, a town, a city) to own something. There are plenty of municipal waterworks and similar things that are owned by communities.

    The idea – at least as expressed by Gesell – would be that title to the land that is in the community’s area is owned by that community, with plots “rented out” on long leases to individuals and businesses. The process of leasing the land would involve an auction, and the contract would spell out restrictions and conditions under which the land may be used.

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