Uncommonly PrivateTWO SELECTIONS FROM THIS CHAPTER.
Property RightsIn Europe, over a long period of time, there has been a progressive extension and development of private property and the rights of individual property owners – along with the extension of the market place to exchange these privately owned goods and services. The expansion of trade and technological innovation in Europe was fuelled and encouraged by this privatisation. In Great Britain, especially, there was a rapid privatisation as trade and technology developed, partly because of a common law development of private property rights.
Private ownership and property rights had then expanded over centuries, as the barons and lords first obtained ‘title’ to separate well defined tracts of land, and then through their struggles with the sovereign gained increasing rights of expropriation and use. Then came the enclosures of the commons and individualised titles and use rights, along with the legal development of privately owned limited liability companies with perpetual rights of ownership. The money supply was privatised, first by private lenders charging interest, then by generating money through bank credit and later through the overall control of credit by private central banks. Now basic communal services of power and water supply, disposal of ‘wastes’, transportation networks etc are being privatised.
Along with this privatisation, market exchanges have extended into all aspects of social life. Firstly the exchange of all goods was brought into the market place, with barter and reciprocal arrangements for produce and products being restricted to the fringes of the economy. The private titling of land made this basic resource exchangeable, and at a price set by market forces of supply and demand. Other resources have been privatised by quota systems, for example of fish stocks in the commons of rivers and oceans, with the quotas being tradeable. Resource services have been privatised by tradeable rights of use or pollution. Social services have even being brought into the market place, by the device of individual purchase rights.
This privatisation certainly encouraged individual effort, enterprise and risk taking. The communal pressures to conform, that can suffocate individual initiative and enterprise, are loosened by private ownership, while the individual can directly retain the rewards that are generated by the development of privately owned assets. Private property rights were also an important protection against the arbitrary expropriation of goods and services by the sovereign or central powers of the state.
There is a long and continuing history of tension and shifting power relationships between central and local authorities. As changes occur in the technology of production and weaponry on the one hand and the amount and significance of trade on the other, the powers and advantages of the centre alters with respect to various local authorities and groups. The centre tries to use new technologies and increasing wealth to enhances its position of power and privilege, while local authorities, professional and trade guilds and producer groups seek to retain as much power and wealth as possible in their own hands. Private property rights certainly restrict the powers of the central state agencies and enhance the powers of the local owners. When the centre claims all residual powers and an absolute authority by the right of the sovereign, then having legally spelt out private rights of use or ownership is a very important protection.
Private rights of use and ownership along with individualised effort and decision making has then been a major factor in the European path of development towards a complex and high technology society. This private ownership approach may too have been most to the liking of the people of Britain. An early development of an effective Parliament and an independent judiciary able to generate legal precedents through a body of common law seems to have developed private rights sooner and to a greater extent in Great Britain than elsewhere in Europe. The incentives this gave to individual initiative and enterprise may partly explain its earlier industrialisation and the vast extent of the Empire it gained beyond Europe because of a technologically superior navy and army.
The English speaking world would still seem to place a greater emphasis on private rights and the use of private enterprise, with this emphasis being maintained by its common law heritage and a court system based more on an adversarial contest between competing private rights than the resolving of public policy issues or communal disagreements. The re-development of right wing politics, with its agenda of privatisation of all economic activities and even social services, and its emphasis on private property rights and individual incentive and responsibility, again seems to be more extreme in the English speaking world.
Healthy Living in Large SocietiesWhen life is seen more in terms of dynamic flows of interweaving spirals, that wind together and surge apart in a never ending inter-play of convergence and divergence, instead of being made up of discrete entities that behave in simple predictable ways, we will see relationships differently and have a different community life. Healthy communities that support and stimulate both personal development and social endeavour will have an in-built dynamic that allows constant interaction and change while maintaining a social structure and community ways. There will be a fluidity to both personal and communal relationships and open participatory processes of decision-making, while maintaining personal integrity and a community identity.
This requires a well-structured arrangement of ownership, utilising both private and public ownership and a range of different forms of lease and renting. It also requires a range of exchange mechanisms, which are appropriately inter-linked.
Then when our personal and social relationships are formed within supportive and well functioning communities, that have a larger inter-connectedness and a richness of diversity, we will have a healthy social basis for a large and technically proficient society.
In a society founded on this sort of community life and a fundamental feeling of trust and acceptance of other people, boundaries would not be so rigidly drawn, nor would decision-making be so hierarchical and inflexible. Our land use and our social institutions would no longer be mono-cultural. The distinctions of urban and rural land would be less clear, ownership arrangements and exchange mechanisms more diverse.
A wider application of the principles of permaculture would give rise to an interweaving of ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ land uses, with food production activities extending throughout all types and densities of human habitation. Communities could be clustered at a number of levels, with land uses and activities being related to site conditions at the corresponding scales. Major land forms would guide the larger patterns, with a differentiation down to smaller and smaller levels based on more and more detailed aspects of the landscape and its associated flows of water and air.
Infrastructures could be similarly developed at different levels, with an overall integration of centralised services and decentralised facilities. Reticulated networks of energy, such as electricity and gas, could be used to integrate a large number of diverse micro supplies with some large central supplies, to give very secure and robust power supplies. Small scale solar, wind and hydro electrical power supplies could service local communities, while both drawing from and feeding into the reticulation grid, as supply availability and demand varies. Local bio-gas production from waste treatment or crop residues could be feed into a network which also had large natural gas supplies from fossil deposits. Long distance and mass transport railway networks could be linked to more local roading networks for buses, trucks and cars, with bicycle and pedestrian ways at the local community level.
The physical pattern of land use and habitation, the type of infrastructural services and the way they function, and the social institutions of communal life would then all reflect each other. There would be an integration of physical layout and use of resources, economic production and service provision, and social interaction and political decision-making.
It would be a very different way of life, giving rise to a very different looking place, based on a different cultural perspective. The technologies are all available, but what and how we use technologies depends on what is socially acceptable and unacceptable, on our institutional arrangements and the cultural values that underlie those arrangements. Our economy, civil society and political institutions are all inter-dependent. We live how we think. We are what we feel.