It’s not often you find a British professor of business studies advocating massive and forcible land confiscation from the “individuals and families who won the state lottery at various stages over the last 600 years in a series of land grabs, in some cases going back to the Norman Conquest.”
And to find the proposal couched as a “new revenue policy that helps to significantly cut the deficit” in the pages of a paper owned by the right-leaning Trinity Mirror — who admittedly know a thing or two about rapacious grabs of others’ property – only heightens the incongruity and for me at least, hilarity.
But Professor David Bailey, whose praises I sung here for his eloquent and informed opposition to Kraft’s takeover of Cadbury, has sparked a compelling internecine battle between bloggers at the Birmingham Post with his attack on Britain’s landed aristocracy. The man has class, if you’ll excuse the pun.
Bailey and co-writer John Clancy think state appropriation of land might be plausible because “the crown” granted such landowners the property to begin with; the policy itself has historical roots.
It’s called crowning. Over the centuries, kings and queens awarded land in return not for money but for past and (more importantly) future services like raising an army and gave the grantees of the land fancy titles as part of the lottery win, like Viscount, Earl, Duke, Marquess and Baron.
Alternatively, they simply stole the land, grabbed it out of opportunity, or fenced it off and enclosed it; possession, in reality, being 9 tenths of the law when it came to land, historically speaking.
So far, so uncontroversial for those with a passing knowledge of our history. But this is a business professor here and he also has his mind on the here-and-now and not just historical injustice of the enclosure movement et al.
The government’s budget deficit, as most without their heads in the sand will no doubt be aware, has ballooned in part to bail out a bust banking system and the professor is unhappy that the little guy has to take the fall.
The fact [is] that the government’s budget deficit has ballooned… Now public sector workers and public services users have to pay the price. The private sector substantially caused this recession and deficit. Now the public sector alone is being called in to pay for it.
The reality that will still have to dawn on all of us (and probably after the election) is that [public sector cuts] will not be enough on their own. The bad news is that the government will have to raise more revenue.
Where could the government possibly turn?
Not, surely, those historically responsible for the destruction of the commons?
Our research estimates that some £100 billion at least is available in asset value, currently in the hands of about 100 men (an almost exclusively male club, by the way), consisting of a sizeable chunk of the land surface of the UK, including much of the commercial property in the hearts of our towns and cities. This land simply has been handed down generation after generation from eldest son to eldest son.
As these eldest sons actually made the laws of the land up to 1999 (and some still do in part) in the House of Lords and younger sons in the House of Commons, the political will to do anything about the ownership of this vast sector of the nation’s real assets was always stymied. It is an astonishing, untouched political fossil.
To cut a long story short, he suggests confiscating the land back, then flogging it to sovereign wealth funds, Middle Eastern investors or the Chinese at fair market prices and using the proceeds to plug the gaping deficit. OK, he is a business professor after all.
But the whole conversation is fascinating and most ticklish, not least the suggestion by collaborator John Clancy in a comment to the post that:
As most of the Aristocracy started off as military tenants under feudalism, we could insist the aristocrat is ordered into a war zone on behalf of the UK, since refusal to do so would enable forfeiture of the lord’s lands. Taking up arms on behalf of the monarch is the basis of the feudal system and refusal to do so means the land falls back to the crown!
Read here and enjoy! For more on “The Enclosure of the Commons” Vandana Shiva penned a compelling and informed essay on the pre-modern and contemporary manifestations of “enclosure” including of intellectual property rights for the Third World Network here. (A must-read!)
* As Terrierman notes:
With the Enclosure Movement, came restrictions on hunting on lands that had once been part of “the commons.” The Game Laws of 1816 limited the hunting of game to landowners: pheasant, partridge, hares and rabbits. The penalty for poaching was “transportation” for 7 years. i.e. you were sent overseas, and if convicted a second time you were never allowed to return.