Thursday, January 23, 2020

Wealth, Whence and Whither.

Wealth, Whence and Whither, and the basis for funding a Universal Basic Income.

From where does wealth arise and to where does it (should it) go?

There are three sources of wealth creation:

1. Land
2. Capital
3. Labour

'Land' in this context doesn't just mean the ground, but all the stuff we get from the natural environment, such as minerals that are mined and quarried, energy from fossil carbon, radioactivity, wind and sun, and food grown from the soil. It is essentially the province of the primary industries, mining, agriculture, fishing and energy.

'Capital' is the machinery, factories, buildings and infrastructure used to convert 'Land' into things we actually want to use. It is either owned by individuals, capitalists, or by the state or other community enterprises. The employment of 'Capital' adds value to 'Land' and thus creates wealth. 

'Labour' is what we do when we, er, labour, work, toil or maybe invent and create. There are different forms of 'Labour' from slavery, through employment by others in exchange for wages, to self-employment and voluntary work.  Whatever, it all goes to add value to 'Land' rather like 'Capital' does.

Much of the day to day cut and thrust of political debate concerns the second two sources of wealth, Capital and Labour and the traditional left-right spectrum reflects the arguments about who the owners and beneficiaries of Capital should be and how Labour is regulated and how the wealth created is distributed. Libraries enough have been filled with writing on the subject so I will not add much more. I will concentrate on Land.

Once upon a very long time ago there were no people. In the case of Britain let's begin after the ice left, roughly 10,000 years ago. Nobody owned the land, folk walked north following the retreating ice and advancing animals and vegetation. The land provided food for all able to take it. The wealth created by the Land was a common good, distributed amongst all the people.

Somehow, sometime between then and the time when people started writing down their affairs, Land came to be possessed by individuals and laws were created to maintain possession. The powerful took unto themselves at least some of the Land and devised a system of governance that entrenched their ownership of this form of wealth creation. Some Land continued to be held communally for the common good, the wealth being distributed amongst all the citizens, but this fraction dwindled over the centuries, famously contracting with the Enclosure Acts but continuing to this day as public assets are privatised, the common ownership of Land being transferred to individuals and the arising wealth transferred with it.

Most of this transfer of ownership of Land to private individuals took place without the consent of the previous owners, most of the population.  It was theft, though the people doing the thieving were also the law-makers and they made the laws that called it not theft.

To right this wrong the transfer could be reversed, the ownership of the Land transferred back to the common ownership of all the citizens. The wealth arising from Land could be distributed to all the citizens as a Universal Basic Income (UBI). We could still have capitalists owning and benefiting from the mean of production and we could still have labourers being exploited to greater or lesser extents by employers. Enterprise and hard work could still be rewarded.The arguments between left and right could continue. But now all citizens would enjoy their fair share of the wealth of their own Land.

There has been much talk (and a few limited trials in other countries) of UBI recently. Critics have questioned where the money to fund it would come from. The discussion above provides the answer; UBI is funded from the birthright of the citizens, the Land component of the nations wealth. Such a basis for UBI would be the most significant change in the economic relations of the people since the Neolithic. We could do it now.
Bingham Canyon Mine, Utah
The world's largest mine; how is it that this mine and its products are in private ownership and the wealth created enjoyed by the few?


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