The Recovery of Private Rights

Scotland, it seems, is going to change whether her people vote for independence on September 18. That’s the conclusion of Financial Times analyst Merryn Somerset Webb. Her article on August 2 summarises the plans and proposals for changing property rights in land which are now in the pipeline. But the headline is misleading: “The twilight of private ownership?” In reality, the changes would favour the restoration of people’s private rights and each person’s social rights.

When land-use rights were ripped away from people by the corrupted feudal aristocracy over the past 500 years, this did NOT originate the onset of the “private ownership” model. What evolved into “capitalism” was a perverse model of economic activity in which most people were excluded from access to their nation’s natural resources. They were turned into tenants in their homeland. This was (and remains) the model of economic apartheid.

So proposals to modify the current structure of property rights is not the twilight of private ownership. They are proposals that could lead to the revival of the right to keep the wealth you create – in other words, not have it confiscated by the state in the form of taxation; aligned with the obligation to pay for the benefits that each of us receives – which, in effect, would mean transferring the nation’s rents to society.

This last step is NOT the termination of private ownership. It is the restoration of each person’s equal right to share in the bounty produced by the combination of nature and society. That is how social rights are restored – private, in the sense that each person derives personal benefit from the services provided by nature and society, but within the social framework.

So if Scotland’s Parliament does proceed with (say) an annual charge on land rents; more opportunities for creating community land ownership; penalties on those who withhold land from use, thereby depriving others of the opportunities that would arise….don’t let the rent-seeking reactionaries dictate the terms of the debate. This is NOT the twilight of private ownership. It is the correction of an age-old injustice, executed by returning people’s private rights.

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