Is there a Peaceful Way to Settle Land Disputes?
Egyptian Army Fights Cairo Squatters, 3 Dead
The more things change, the more they stay the same. This 2012 excerpt is from the Associated Press, Nov 18.
by Hamza HendawiEgyptian army troops fought a four-hour gun battle with protesters in southern Cairo on Sunday, sparked by a dispute over land on an island of the Nile, security officials said. Three protesters were killed.
The officials said the disputed plot of land on Qursayah island is owned by the armed forces but was illegally seized by residents taking advantage of the chaos that followed last year's ouster of authoritarian President Hosni Mubarak. The island was retaken by the army soon thereafter.
Then about 60 civilians, mostly women, again took control of the land on Friday but were evicted early on Sunday. The clashes broke out when troops moved in from the mainland to retake control of the plot. The officials say three civilians were killed and seven others wounded in the firefight on a road on the mainland across from the island. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.
Troops arrested 15 protesters who had used metal barricades and burning tires to block an access road to the island, the officials said. Five soldiers were wounded by gunfire in the clashes, which took place around a mile (1.5 kilometers) from the city center.
Sunday's violence was the first known street battle involving the army since President Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's first civilian and freely elected leader, took office in late June.
To read more
JJS: Fights for land don’t just happen between nations but also within nations.
* Even in peaceful Denmark, famed for its anarchist village of Christiania within the capitol city of Copenhagen, violent clashes took place between squatters and the armed force of the state ( to read more ).
* In Germany, Berlin earned a reputation among squatters as a haven -- at least until the government closed down it noted artist colony ( to read more ).
* And in Britain, squatters were viewed as enough of a threat that the government criminalized them ( to read more) -- a policy that has been routine in America where the homeless gather in camps until evicted by police.
The irony is, most cities have plenty of un-used or under-used plots and abandoned buildings that would make ideal shelters and parcels for low-cost housing. Why aren’t the sites and structures put to good use? Because speculators keep the private ones idle, awaiting a higher future price, and politicians and bureaucrats keep the public ones idle out of simple governmental inefficiency.
How can society motivate owners and rulers to put prime urban land to best use? Easy. Charge land dues or land taxes yet don’t tax labor and capital. Having to pay the dues (or tax), owners put their holdings to highest use in order to afford the levy. And governments, no longer allowed to tax anything that moves, would be sure to recover all the socially-generated location value it could, in order to have its own revenue stream.
Instead, governments do just the opposite and motivate some pretty odd behavior. For example, Cairo is a city of unfinished buildings. Look out over the cityscape and so many structures are topped not by roofs but by top floors of ugly pipes and jagged walls. Why? Because buildings there that are works in progress are exempted from the property tax while buildings that are completed are taxed to the hilt. Like most taxes, the one on structures shrinks its own base rather than expanding it. Which one expands its own base? See above.
Many other economic benefits follow.
* As the dues for land rises, the price for land falls.
* As the supply of housing grows, the price for housing shrivels.
* As the taxes on labor and capital fall, the prices for goods and services fall, too.
* As owners develop their parcels, and as residents engage in more production and commerce in general, they need to hire more helpers, so even people on the fringe can find good-paying jobs.
For most people, earned incomes rise while the cost of living falls -- and the pressure to squat evaporates.
Such benefits may seem hypothetical but they’re not. Every place that has used geonmic policy has become a success story. If squatters could acquire a little bit of geonomic sophistication, perhaps they’d demand tax reform along with land.
Editor Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics and helped prepare a course for the UN on geonomics. To take the “Land Rights” course, click here .
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