The equal right of all to the use of land is as clear as the equal right to breathe the air—it is a right proclaimed by the fact of existence. For we cannot suppose that some have a right to be in this world, and others no right.
— Henry George, Progressive Era Economist and Author
“The Earth sustains all life. At its root, our economic crisis is a crises in consciousness because we see ourselves as separate from our environment, when, in reality, we’re inextricably connected to all that is. As a result, we’ve deluded ourselves into thinking that land and natural resources should be owned and then profited from by some at the expense of others. As landowners gain from natural and governmental advantages, land value has also been subsidized nearly everywhere; this implicit subsidy is endemic to the entire system. We don’t consider the impact that our individual actions have upon the totality of life as we seek to grab as big a share of land as we can. It’s time to recognize that all beings have a sustainable right of access to nature’s abundance. It’s a fundamental birthright. Indeed, the equal and sustainable right of access to the Earth’s bounty seems one of the most transcendent truths a human being can ever contemplate.”
— Martin Adams
The first man who, having enclosed a piece of land, ventured to say, "This is mine" and found people simple enough to believe him was the real founder of civil society. How many crimes, wars, murders, how many miseries and horrors might the human race have been spared by the one who, pulling up the stakes or filling in the ditch, had shouted to his fellow men: "Beware of listening to this impostor; you are lost if you forget that the fruits of the Earth belong to all and that the Earth belongs to no one."
— Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Enlightenment Era Political Philosopher
Sharing is a virtuous fundamental principle taught among civilized cultures. Parents often teach their children to share among siblings and schools typically utilize shared resources. Sharing is inherent as well as learned and therefore is integrated into society at differing levels. While sharing is a widely respected value, little is heard about concepts of Earth sharing in the various classrooms we sat in growing up, which is unfortunate considering many of the leaders, shapers, and founders of our civilization that we learned about also promoted the idea.
The land, the earth God gave man for his home, sustenance, and support, should never be the possession of any man, corporation, society, or unfriendly government, any more than the air or water.
— Abraham Lincoln, Former President of the United States of America
The reality is that resources are typically owned by powerful individuals, groups, corporations, and governments who continually hoard and profit at the expense of the vast majority of people and other inhabitants of the Earth. None know this better than the land speculator who does nothing to improve their own land and hopes a vibrant community will develop in the surrounding area to sell at higher prices. We can even predict economic crashes through the real estate cycle. These scenarios are just some that are used to describe the land monopoly and, as Winston Churchill aptly said, it is the mother of all monopolies. In essence, as a result we are all forced to labor for the landowners to buy back what is already ours to begin with. This issue is a root cause of poverty and injustice.
There are two kinds of property. Firstly, natural property, or that which comes to us from the Creator of the universe—such as the earth, air, water. Secondly, artificial or acquired property—the invention of men. In the natural property all individuals have legitimate birthrights. Men did not make the earth. It is the value of the improvement only, and not the earth itself, that is individual property... Man did not make the earth, and, though he had a natural right to occupy it, he had no right to locate as his property in perpetuity any part of it; neither did the Creator of the earth open a land-office, from whence the first title-deeds should issue. Whence then, arose the idea of landed property? I answer as before, that when cultivation began the idea of landed property began with it, from the impossibility of separating the improvement made by cultivation from the earth itself, upon which that improvement was made.
— Thomas Paine, Author and Founding Father of the United States of America
In the original founding document, the Articles of Confederation, the framers of the United States implemented Earth sharing concepts as the law of the land. The first accepted tax was a land value tax based on Earth sharing principles. The framers knew the benefits of sharing resources outweighed the benefits of exclusion. While arguments abound about why these constructs changed when the secretly revised replacement Constitution was written favoring the wealthy land owners and aristocracy, or the 1% of the time, it is important to note that mainly landholders were allowed to vote. Surely, greed and corruption were factors to contend with back then as well.
Whenever there is in any country, uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right. The earth is given as a common stock for man to labor and live on. If, for the encouragement of industry we allow it to be appropriated, we must take care that other employment be furnished to those excluded from the appropriation.
— Thomas Jefferson, Former President and Founding Father of the United States of America
Greedy plutocratic influence still reigns supreme. Oil companies rake in trillions in profits from exclusive ownership of natural resources that we all allow, and, in turn, they become lone economic powerhouses buying immense political influence for their own interests. Meanwhile, many people in those countries where the valuable oil is extracted are living in poverty with environmental destruction. The same is true of other natural resource exploiters and plunderers. These neo-feudalistic behaviors threaten our resources, communities, and evolutionary human bonds. Earth sharing is not favorable to greedy corporate profiteering and the propaganda is thick in its opposition. Furthermore, access to resources is among the root causes for the large scale violence across the globe and wars have become glorified business-as-usual as a result.
Our legislators are all landholders, and they are not yet persuaded that all taxes are finally paid by the land.
— Benjamin Franklin, Polymath and Founding Father of the United States of America
Communities, cities, and other areas of population density arise to provide services that increase the efficiency of applying labor to land, or increasing the efficiency of producing goods. The value of the underlying land increases with the diversity of services available. Thus, land value is a function exclusively of community and not one’s own labor. We all build upon the work of others. Inventions are seldom lone acts of genius but collaborative improvements on prior achievements. Furthermore, we all utilize community based resources to improve our products, services, and lives. Roads and Internet access, for example, are integral to most any commercial production and social endeavor.
The man who, by good fortune, sells a narrow right-of-way for a new highway makes a handsome profit through the increase in value of all of the rest of his land. That represents an unearned increment of profit—a profit which comes to a mere handful of lucky citizens and which is denied to the vast majority.
— Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Former President of the United States of America
So what exactly do we mean by nature "belonging to everybody"? Do we mean to abolish all private property rights? To charge everybody rent for the small space in nature they occupy? Shall we divide access to land and ocean into equal parcels and distribute them to each individual? Shall we grant everybody permission to go anywhere on earth they desire? To take or use whatever resources they desire without charge? To answer these questions and give effect to the notion that the world belongs to all, we must first recognize that all humans need a place to live. Each person needs some space on earth to exclusively possess but not absolutely own. This translates into no property taxes being levied by improvements on that space, but heavy taxation falling on land and natural resource rents. Nature in this context is everything apart from human action. Natural resources include wildlife, minerals, and the space below, on, and above the earth’s surface. But self-ownership does not extend to what the self did not create, identified here as natural resources. By the premise of human equality, the benefit of the resources of nature belong equally to everybody. That benefit is measured by the market rent of the resource, which is the greatest amount users are willing to pay. The economy benefits from competitive private possession, conditional on paying the community rent.
Ground rents are a species of revenue which the owner, in many cases, enjoys without any care or attention of his own. Ground rents are, therefore, perhaps a species of revenue which can best bear to have a peculiar tax imposed upon them.
— Adam Smith, Father of Economics
Land, labor, and capitol, although interrelated, are three distinctly separate factors of production. After all capital goods have been properly depreciated, and everyone paid a fair and reasonable wage, whatever is left over is unearned "land value" or "economic rent" or what we call today "unearned income," which should be heavily taxed, not privatized. The term "unearned income" means exactly what belongs to the public, to everybody in general, or in other words it is the commonwealth. Capturing or taxing ground rents through land values is widely seen, even on both sides of the political spectrum, as an effective way to level the playing field and lease natural resources to interested individuals and organizations where we all are the shareholders. An effective resource sharing policy can also help to resolve land disputes around the globe by leasing the land and giving the proceeds back to the people in the form of public programs and public dividends.
The whole problem is the structure of our economy which has be more oriented at increasing rents than increasing productivity and real economic growth...But a tax on land...rents would actually address some of the underlying problems. This is an idea that Henry George had more than 100 years ago but the analysis that I have done says it would actually go one step beyond Henry George. Henry George argued for a land tax because it was non-distortionary but this analysis says that a land tax actually improves the productivity of the economy because you encourage people to invest in productive capital rather than into rent generating wealth and the result of that shift in the composition of savings toward more productive investment leads to a more productive economy and leads to a more equal society.
— Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Laureate Economist
Since land value is created by the community, it should belong to the community. Due to the interconnection of the world economy, defining the bounds for a particular community becomes blurred. If somebody were to acquire all the money in the world, the money would simply become worthless as new currencies develop to facilitate trade. However, if somebody acquired all of the land in the world, they would have power of life and death over each of us, for if we disobeyed they could force us off of their property and into the ocean. To a lesser extent, those who own the best land and natural resources today have certain powers over the rest of us that limit our freedom.
There's a sense in which all taxes are antagonistic to free enterprise, and yet we need taxes. We do need to provide for certain essential government functions. So the question is, which are the least bad taxes? In my opinion the least bad tax is the property tax on the unimproved value of land, the Henry George argument of many, many years ago.
— Milton Friedman, Nobel Laureate Economist
There are multiple working models already in place that attempt to effectively share the resources of nature with humanity. Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Denmark, and parts of Pennsylvania have been financially successful due to land value rent collection policies. Another is the Alaska Permanent Fund, where each Alaska citizen receives an annual check from shared oil extraction revenues. Others include the Texas Permanent School and Permanent University Funds, where similar oil revenues are used to fund educational programs in the state. Thoroughly loved by the citizens, these resource sharing funds are sources of great accomplishments and pride.
The Alaska Permanent Fund is a model that governments all over the world would be well-advised to copy.
— Vernon L. Smith, Nobel Laureate Economist
Probably the most popular resource sharing fund is in Norway and simply called The Fund. The same principle applies where oil and natural resource revenues are collected and placed in a public account that is also invested in ethical organizations around the globe. The Fund made big news in 2017 when it topped the $1 Trillion USD milestone. It is the most successful wealth fund in the world. There exist other such funds in China, the Middle East, Canada, and other resource rich nations and the proceeds are often used to fund public programs including utilities, schools, healthcare, and social welfare programs.
Permanent peace can only be established when men and nations have realized that natural resources should be a common heritage, and used for the good of all mankind.
— First Viscount Philip Snowden, British Politician and Economic Philosopher
One particular idea gaining bipartisan popularity is a Universal Basic Income. Similar to the Alaska Fund, a UBI is a payment given to everyone unconditionally in order to reform costly welfare programs, effectively reduce poverty, incentivize entrepreneurship, give additional support for children and struggling parents, and provide a stronger social safety net, among other worthwhile reasons. This can also be funded by proceeds generated from land and natural resource use, in which case it is then called a Citizen's Dividend or UBI-CD. A UBI-CD is paying for the privileges taken by the owners of the resources. If we don’t have UBI we put those without property in the position where they have no other choice but to work for those people whose privileged control of resources makes those without property unable to use resources for themselves. In this regard, a UBI-CD is also a key component to effectively ending neofeudal economic slavery.
No person on Earth has the right to come between another person and the resources they need to survive. And that's what happens when we have private resources without paying a compensating basic income. Because you take people and you put them in a world where all of the natural resources have been made into someone else's private capital, or public capital, and it's fine to do that, it's a good thing as long as you pay for it by paying back to the people with an Unconditional Basic Income. Americans care about each other and they care very much about freedom and they need to come to realize that you don't have freedom without a basic income. Nobody asked the poor people to have all the resources of the Earth given to somebody else as their private property, and because of that people have to follow a bunch of rules that our native ancestors did not have to follow. Once the land was freely available to all. Now we say you can't do this or you can't do that because someone else owns that land and they own all the capital and all the resources of the Earth. We owe payment for that taking. If we don't do it we are taking away people's freedom by leaving them no way to survive except by work ~for~ someone else. Unconditional Basic Income is one piece of the puzzle to build a truly free and democratic society. There is no freedom while you are forcing people to live in poverty. People who could get out of poverty if you just get out of their way and stop telling them they can't use the resources of the Earth. Then they could build a great society for themselves. Instead we are causing homelessness, making people live in shacks and shanties, and forcing them to take the worst jobs available. That's not freedom and there is no democracy when people are completely under the threat of poverty all of the time, if they don't do what they are told by their social betters.
— Karl Widerquist, Professor of Political Philosophy and Economics
While the term natural resources typically means land, water, air, and minerals, such as oil and gasses, there are other resources to include as natural resources as well. The electromagnetic spectrum, for example, is also a part of nature and used for radio, voice, and Internet communications. The profits made from licensing, leasing, and utilizing EM frequencies could also be added to a public resource wealth sharing program. Another prime example is the abundance of new helium, an essential element for medical equipment, rockets and satellites, and party balloons recently discovered in Tanzania. These helium reserves is expected to address the global shortage by supplying the scientific needs around the world, and they could also fund public aid programs instead of a select few wealthy people if legislated properly. Tell the Tanzania government to share the resource rents here.
A common-pool resource, such as a lake or ocean, an irrigation system, a fishing ground, a forest, the internet, or the stratosphere, is a natural or man-made resource from which it is difficult to exclude or limit users once the resource is provided by nature or produced by humans. One person's consumption of resource units removes those units from what is available to others. Thus, the trees or fish harvested by one user are no longer available for others. The difficulty of excluding beneficiaries is a characteristic that is shared with public goods, while the subtractability of the resource units is shared with private goods. Coping with potential tragedies of the commons is never easy and never finished. Now that we know that those dependent on these resources are not forever trapped in situations that will only get worse over time, we need to recognize that governance is frequently an adaptive process involving multiple actors at diverse levels. We need to develop better theories of complex adaptive systems, particularly those that have proved themselves able to utilize renewable natural resources sustainably over time. I will focus primarily on renewable natural resources as exemplars of common-pool resources, but the theoretical arguments are relevant to man-made common-pool resources, such as the Internet, as well.
— Elinor Ostrom, Nobel Laureate Economist and Political Scientist
Data collections (think Big Data, Facebook, Twitter, Equifax, sales and marketing records, and other related data stores) are a type of public resource made from open-source style community contributions where the profits are privatized instead of shared with the contributors. Taxi licenses are also largely affected by economic rent. Pollution can be curbed and climate change reversed by taxing natural resource rents. There are many other examples from different socioeconomic situations. Can you think of another exclusionary resource situation that applies? Soon we will be a space faring civilization. Some people say the first person, company, or government to land on Mars will own the resources of that planet. This obviously is an unjust method that leaves out the whole of life. The same resource sharing concept also applies for other planets and their resources.
Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man’s greed.
— Gandhi, Political Civil Rights Activist
Economics aside, sharing natural resources is an age old concept. The scriptures of all major religions advise against hoarding land for the very reasons mentioned in this article. The Judeo-Christian tradition, for example, is unmistakably clear that nature is a gift (Genesis 9:1–3, among other passages). It even prohibits permanent land ownership and provides land-leasing guidance (Leviticus 25), while expressly stating that "the profit of the land is for all" (Ecclesiastes 5:9). Ancient Hindu sages stated that "the soil is the common property of all" and that people shall "through their own efforts, enjoy the fruits thereof." In Islam, the prophet Muhammad expressed it quite succinctly when he stated that "the people are partners in three things: water, pastures, and fire" (Sultaniyya Hadith 26), which could be interpreted as "water, land, and energy." And while the Buddha didn’t explicitly address the land issue, he taught that the practice of right livelihood was essential on the path of enlightenment. Since it’s almost universally understood in Buddhism that stealing is contrary to the spirit of right livelihood, we have to assume that the profiting from land is therefore also contrary to the Buddhist spiritual path. A similar principle exists for practitioners of the yogic traditions: The third yama of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is asteya, or non-stealing. Most indigenous cultures on Earth treat nature as gift, not property; although many Native American tribes and First Nations people have sporadically fought one another over certain territory, the battles were about the right of use of land—never ownership, which is a concept foreign to most indigenous cultures.
America was not stolen from the Indians, because the Indians never owned it. The land was not property. While pre-agricultural peoples often have a tribal territory, they would be appalled at the idea that land could be owned. Is not the Earth a being greater than any human, or even any group of humans? How can a greater belong to a lesser? To presume to own a piece of the Earth, to say it is mine, is from the indigenous perspective a sacrilege so audacious as to be unthinkable. To reduce the Earth to property and eventually to money is indeed to make a greater into a lesser, to turn the sacred into the profane, the divine into the human, the infinite into the quantified. I can think of no better definition of sacrilege than that.
— Charles Eisenstein, Author of The Ascent of Humanity and Sacred Economics
“We believe that the Earth belongs to us, but we seem to forget that, in truth, we belong to the Earth. While we as human beings disagree on almost everything under the stars, the recognition that this Earth—and all the land upon it—is our common home ought to be foundation upon which all our perspectives and philosophies come to rest. We need to make this recognition the starting and ending point of any discussion of an economic model that’s both just and efficient as the younger generations take over with their new ideas for society. Anything other than unconditional acceptance and an implementation of this truth is but a compromise and a muddling of an otherwise clear and universal principle: No single human being has an intrinsic right to profit from that which, ultimately, cannot belong to anyone at all yet belongs to everyone together.”
— Martin Adams
We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.
— Aldo Leopold, Professor of Agricultural Economics
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Our public voice section intends to share the ideas and viewpoints of the general public with our readers. We are all on this planet together. Our voices together are the path towards progress. Topics range across the spectrum and authors include neighbors, students, and scholars alike.