Land as a Birthright

landrights4all landrights4all at
Tue Dec 11 23:46:27 GMT 2012

Hi All,

I live in Australia in the Blue Mountains. I am a very low income social housing tenant. I take on board what Ghandi said in consideration of the gap between the rich first world and the third world - live simply so the poor may simply live. 

I was first moved to take a new path in 1987 by the Ethiopian famine and the recognition that perhaps the first thing I could do would be to stop exploiting the poor by the demands of my lifestyle. 

I also began to understand the centrality of land as a birthright in addressing poverty. Since those days I have been trying to describe my own positive vision for how things could be, and how, through changes in how we deal with poverty in the first world we might be able to attract third worlders to follow a more just and sustainable pathway. I have begun drafting a short paper for Human Rights Day which is pasted in below.The idea that they should follow our mistakes is just too frightening to imagine.

I have no faith in politics of any colour, believing that change will come about through the poorest first. My idea for a UN approach is more about getting my own mind clear and linking up with like minded folk rather than about any faith in the UN to change.

 I am just starting inquiries into what might be called "Natural Rights". I am already aware of the Right to Life and the Rights of the Child, so I am looking for something different here.

 As we already accept that being born gives us a right to life, I would have thought that this naturally implies we have a right of access to the essentials nature freely  provides for life - primarily air water sunlight and land. Regarding land, the access that is essential to life is stable and secure and free access for growing food and erecting shelter.

 I am certain that these primary gifts of nature that I am calling "Natural Rights" have been discussed and debated in published works.

 I did come across this -

 Even though there are some useful references & discussion there, it seems to go quickly off course. I don't know why it is so hard to tap into a discussion on the question of land as a birthright.

 It seems that if you don't want to join the Georgists for tax reform you are on your own - worse still, as soon as you mention land as a birthright it is assumed you are either a Georgist, or are talking about some other BIG top down political systems reform.

 It really is hard to see an opening for a UN campaign, but I'm doing a bit more looking.

 Would you refer me to any authoritative historical material or contacts and debates that I might be able to use as a basis for an approach to the UN?

Chris Baulman
61 0417 161 214

THE RIGHT TO SHELTER (with loopholes aplenty) 

I'm writing about an inconsistency in human rights which I believe is giving rise to intolerable and dangerous injustice and poverty.

We have recognised the right to life, which implies a right to the gifts nature provides to sustain life - air water sunlight and land. We couldn't expect that what we need for life should be provided by any other person, simply that we should not be deprived of the gifts of nature by anybody. The very idea of a right to shelter is compromised and obscuring.

While the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights says that shelter is a human right, some implications of this should also be specified so as to overcome the unnecessary delay in the delivery of justice on the excuse of the cost of housing and budget constraints. The apparent reasonableness of having to wait is built into the idea of a right to shelter. 

Shelter involves labour - does the right to shelter mean we have a right to build our own shelter, or that we have a right to expect someone to build it for us? In either case, for a right to shelter to be sensible, access to land on which to build has to be a right too and there is nothing obscure or justifying delay about that.

A right of access to land is only implied in the declaration. As a result, many people are deprived of the opportunity to build a shelter and grow food to eat. They die from exposure and starvation because they are denied access to land which nature provided and on which life depends for shelter and food.

To make matters worse, at the same time as being negligent in this matter, the declaration identifies the right to property without clarifying any limitations. Clearly, in a finite world any right to property must be limited, but even more specifically, it must be limited by the amount of land others need for their survival, as well as by what land society needs for its health, harmony and the collaboration that enriches society as a whole. It is not at all clear that the Declaration is about the human right beyond any property right. 

It may be said to be too late for a revision to identify land access as a human right because the property system is now ubiquitous. In Australia it provides everyone, even the unemployed, with enough money to buy food and shelter. It may even seem that there is no longer space or need for recognising land rights, but is this true?

I think it's quite disingenuous or ignorant to pretend that state welfare payments provide appropriately for the shelter and food which should be founded on the birthright of access to land, (now property). Welfare is not our birthright. Welfare is designed to bring us back into the marketplace, not to protect or deliver our rights. The property system has been an undeniable imperative for people to find employment in the marketplace.

It may be true that with a population of 7billion and rising some forms of access are no longer sustainable. The land needed for a hunter gatherer lifestyle for all would be unsustainable, but it is clearly untrue to say that there isn't enough space for everyone to have a home and a veggie garden. There is plenty of space for that. The question is fundamentally about how access to land for food and shelter should work.

It's also true that the property system has been a motivator for great developments. It has brought great wealth, and in Australia the majority has their dreams invested in home ownership. However the recognition of someone else's right of access to land need not diminish your right to own land for food and shelter. 

Even so, whatever the case for the restoration of free access to land for shelter and food for others may be, why would the voter majority support change when the system continues to serve them well? Why would owners agree to free access to land for those without, when they have had to work so hard for their own housing equity?

Beyond the obvious moral case, I believe there are several things to say about why they would agree.

•	Globalisation is competitive and welfare adds to production costs.
•	Welfare is an expensive way to maintain social harmony.
•	Resentment and division deepen without commonality.
•	Gated communities are fearful places to live.
•	Kids of owners can become redundant and beaten too.
•	Housing affordability is now a majority issue which demands a more cost effective solution to increase supply.
•	Many more people are going to come here needing food and shelter.
•	The right of access to land to build shelter and grow food could end poverty and set us free from wage slavery. 
•	All rights have responsibilities – rightful access means no money, not no duties.
•	Social inclusion will mean new ways to contribute.
•	The environment needs large numbers living much more simply now.
•	We need low consumption skills more than we need high income lifestyles.
•	Localism is a guarantee of social security that we need to develop.
•	Localism makes neighbourhoods more vibrant

Recognition of the right of free access to land for shelter and food is only relevant for someone who doesn't already have adequate shelter - there is no birthright to double up on land access. Most people already have more than their entitlement and couldn't claim any right to more land access, so we are not talking about a change that would disrupt property markets.

Anyone claiming a right has a responsibility to operate within that right, as well as to use it solely for its purpose and not to abuse it. A right of access to land for food and shelter is for that purpose only. Also, if you were already drawing on land elsewhere for other purposes, (eg. for your fossil fuels) your birthright would be diminished in direct proportion to equitable and sustainable limitations. The simplest way to estimate sustainable limits to land dependence is to use income levels as a measure of resource utilisation. (Expenditure is the usual method, but income is more appropriate because it covers savings as well as expenditure).

We know that the current level of global income generation is damaging the environment, but perhaps we can hope that technology will start to resolve this, AND deal with a growing population and the developing nations demanding higher incomes for better lifestyles - perhaps.

So let's say we already had the technology today to make today's global income generation sustainable. On average, each person who was entitled to claim access to land as a birthright would be entitled to around $250 per week to buy things beyond the food and shelter they would have to generate on their birthright land access. Anyone earning more $250pw would be eating into their birthright, dollar by dollar by their dependence on additional land elsewhere for the generation of extra income. So now we can say that in a country like Australia, only those on $250pw or less would have enough birthright to build shelter and grow food. Others would have to buy these things at market rates. Again, those eligible to claim free access to land would not disrupt property markets.

>From the point of view of owners, any of the unemployed choosing to build shelter and grow their own food would be less dependent on welfare. They would also be contributing the benefits listed above. They would be breaking ground in sustainable development for all. Far from being disruptive, recognition of land access as a birthright for shelter and food could be a very attractive alternative for both landowners and for the landless unemployed.

In Australia people who are eligible can apply for public housing. Out of a welfare payment of say $250 a week they pay 25% for rent. If the access public housing tenants already have to public land is counted as their birthright, the rent they must pay can be thought of as the cost of maintaining a socially acceptable standard of building materials for their housing.

If their income increases beyond $250pw, so does their rent until they pay full market value. At that point any birthright that should be recognised would have been entirely eroded by their higher income. This would simply involve a change in perspective from access as a "welfare entitlement" to access as a human right.

What's missing in this already well established equation is the recognition by government that responsibility for their right could be properly met by other means than job seeking. Instead, some people who chose to claim access as a human right rather than as a welfare entitlement would start learning to take on their birthright responsibilities - beginning with building and garden maintenance.

Suitable land, housing and rental management systems are already in place with Dept of Housing, and the income payment and deduction systems are already in place with Centrelink, as is the mutual obligations accountability system - the voluntary work accountability systems have been tried and proven in approved Community Organisations.

Doing community work for approved organisations is already an option for unemployed people over 55. It should be extended to unemployed people of any age because forcing people to join the marketplace is unsustainable for all the reasons outlined, and it is unjust because it denies both the birth right and responsibility.

For a right to shelter to be sensible, access to land on which to build has to be a right too. Recognition of this right would serve us all.

Chris Baulman
61 0417 161 214

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