Land ownership

SOUTHERN Province minister Cornelius Mweetwa says councils in the province should provide land to the poor and not only the rich.

He says council resources should not be used to benefit councillors or council staff but to provide critical services that add value to the lives of residents.
He says plots do not belong to rich people but the poor.

Mweetwa says a situation where people were born in rented houses and die in rented houses should be a thing of the past.

We agree.

Talking about rent, John Stuart Mill couldn’t have put it more aptly when he noted that, “Landlords grow rich in their sleep without working…”

And Franklin D Roosevelt would say, “We think of our land and water and human resources not as a static and sterile possessions but as life giving assets to be directed by wise provisions for future days.

A Hebrew proverb states that, “He is not a full man who does not own a piece of land.”

While Winston Churchill warned that, “Land monopoly is not monopoly, but it is by far the greatest of monopolies; it is a perpetual monopoly, and it is the mother of all other forms of monopoly.”

Land ownership is a very critical issue. Like water and food, access or lack of it is a security issue. Inaccessibility to land, water and food by majority citizens can lead to conflict. In fact, these are challenges of the 21 Century. In a country like Zambia we shouldn’t be discussing issues of having citizens lacking land, housing, food and water. But majority of our people are landless. The rich few and foreigners today have become latifundia. We cannot continue on this trajectory. Land is not a luxury resource. Land is a collective resource and God is not making new land. We have to sustainably manage and use it. Every citizen of this country must have access to land and derive full rights that come with land ownership.

As John Steinbeck notes, “If a man owns a little property, that property is him…it is part of him….in some ways he’s bigger because he owns it.”

As Gary D Libecap argues for the Hoover Institution, “Property rights are the most fundamental institution in any economy and society. They determine who makes decisions about valuable resources and who captures the economic gains from those decisions; they mold the distribution of income, wealth, and political influence; they set time horizons and investment incentives; and they define who will take part in markets. These attributes are well recognised among economists for spurring economic growth. But economists have missed another equally important characteristic of private property rights that has long been emphasised in philosophical, legal, and historical literatures and is captured in the quote from John Steinbeck above. Individual owners are more confident, self-reliant, and entrepreneurial than non-property owners. Where access to property is widespread, politics are more stable. Owners have a stake in the existing political regime. Moreover, people acquire property through the market and do not mobilise for forced redistribution using the power of the state through revolution and revolt. They expect property rights to be secure and view government regulation with suspicion. The use and trading of property assets is seen as a positive sum game. With broad property ownership and market participation, the state is less important than the market, and the economy in turn is less centralised, more atomistic, market-based, and supportive of entrepreneurship. This description characterises the United States from its colonial beginnings through the 19th century and generally on to today. In contrast, in countries where property ownership is highly skewed and access to ownership open only to elites, non-owners view things differently. Acquisition of property, wealth, and political power can only occur through capture and then enlistment of the state, as occurred in the extreme in 1789 France or 1917 Russia, or is reflected in recurrent political upheaval and redistributions characteristic of Latin America with its many disaffected populations, military revolts, and coups that have occurred since colonial times. This political uncertainty and lack of overall optimism and entrepreneurship has contributed to slower long-term economic growth than a region so rich in natural resources might have otherwise enjoyed. Why has the southern half of the hemisphere had such a different long-term experience than the northern half? Why has there been more ongoing economic growth and political stability in the North than in the South? Differences in the ownership of land is the key. Political economists and philosophers during the European Enlightenment, including Adam Smith, John Locke, Jeremy Bentham, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Stuart Mill, David Ricardo, Edward Wakefield, and Robert Torrens debated the role of individuals in society, their potential for advancement, relationship with the state, and the critical impact of general private ownership of land for advancing individual and resource potentials. The implications of land ownership as a threat for an authoritarian state and its power structure…Individual land ownership, speculation in land, and participation in capital markets based on land as collateral, was widespread in North America. It was the initial basis for a middle class. Because land was so available, almost anyone could own some and take advantage of capital gains as land values rose. In Latin America, this was not the case. Although there were vast frontiers open for European migration and settlement as the local indigenous population was pushed aside, ownership of land and minerals remained with the state and its use delegated to privileged elites. When private land ownership became available, it went to those elites.”

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