Land and Capital

By David Barnsdale

Land is a basic right. As land provides food everyone who wishes should have access to enough land to support themselves. As land is limited anyone holding more than their fare share (ie more land than they can work themselves without employing someone else) are denying the rights of others. This isn't too controversial for the Green Movement and is, as I understand it, the ideal to which the Green Party manifesto aims.

Capital (factories, machine tools etc) is not so obviously a scarce resource but in practice the problem is no different. In India we see this with the impact of western technology. Because they invest their limited capital into a modern capital intensive sector there is little left over for the rest of Indians. Hence development has, for many Indians, meant destitution. But even if capital is unlimited we still have a problem. Industry is a process where raw materials are processed using labour and capital to produce finished goods. In a time of resource abundance increasing the capital available to an economy is likely to produce increasing employment as the throughput of resources increases. But once an economy starts to experience resource shortages capital starts to have the opposite effect. Building more factories to process more of a raw material is clearly a waste of time if those raw materials are close to their limit of exploitation. Alternatively those factories that already exist can be upgraded to a more capital intensive level so the same input of resources can be processed with a smaller quantity of labour. In other words a number of workers end up on the dole.

Capital could be invested in conservation or technologies that make new resources available such as renewable energy. This would be the first choice of Greens yet is the last resort under capitalism.

Capital then is no different from land - the more some have, the less for others. Indeed the right to land is a empty if small scale producers are pushed out of the market by competition from agricorporations using capital intensive methods. So if our claims to be in favour of producer coops and self employed, and against capitalism, are to mean anything what is the solution?

The same principles we apply to land should aply to capital. Hence community banks should be set up to give, as of right, sufficient capital to any groups with an economical and ecological idea for a business. These would be very low interest loans and the size of the sum would be calculated on the basis of how much capital would normally be needed per worker for a business to be viable. (If some one has an especially capital intensive idea -hard luck, though they would still have the option of borrowing the excess at commercial rates.) These loans would be on condition that the individuals or coops do not employ anyone. If they need new workers they must either pay back the loan or make the new workers equal partners or coop members.

And where is the capital going to come from? Where else but by taxes on capital, so solving the other half of our problem. The Green Party already proposes a tax on land that needs extending to capital.

For individuals to own enough capital to purchase a house and to set themselves up as self employed seems reasonable but any excess over that would be subject to a wealth tax. Firms would also be subject to a levy on a percentage of their capital. The level of these taxes would be set so as to ensure that the community banks had adequate funds for all who wished to take out loans.

But is this necessary? In a time of resource shortages won't industrial society just collapse under it's own weight? There is no doubt that industrial society with it's unemployment and inner city decay is in seious crisis but capitalism has always existed for itself not for society. Indeed as capitalism breaks beyond national boundaries and by means of automation learns to do without labour it has never been healthier. There are greens who believe that the black economy could give birth to a society of self-reliant artisans. They should take a glance at the third world where traditional artisans livelihoodshave been destroyed by the establishment of modern capitalist enclaves. Capitalism cannot be bypassed - it must be confronted.

Greens believe in a democratic, decentralized society of self-reliant individuals. Given that work is such a major part of peoples lives we cannot ignore this area. Further to leave economic life in the hands of a small group of powerful individuals makes a nonsense of democracy and could undermine our attempts to protect the environment.