The Road to Globalisation:

Where Stands Permaculture? Where Stand We All?

Shirley-Anne Hardy

[Reprinted from The Permaculture Activist, No.49, December 2002. The writer is the author of Birthright in Land and the State of Scotland Today, published by Peregrine Press. She is a tireless campaigner for land rent reform in Scotland and may be contacted at The Rocks, Pitlochry, Perthshire PH16 5QZ, Scotland.]

The introductory column at the front of each issue of A Permaculture Activist tells of its primary goal as being "to provide information useful to people actively working to establish permaculture systems 'on the ground.'" There are plenty of people in Scotland bubbling with aspiration to do just that! But we live in a country of locked-up land.

Moreover, where the fundamentals of life (security of home and work) remain -- on account of this monopolised land -- dependent upon the good graces of another party, who is thus able to tie up people's tongues along with their homes and work, we surely have a humanly-constructed stumbling block to intelligent action on this Planet! This fundamental chokehold on freedom of speech makes for a de-MOCK-racy indeed! Meanwhile this root monopoly wastes no time in working its way up through every level of our economic activity, as poisons work up the food-chain, multiplying at every stage. For the primary requirement for all human activity is, of course, access to land. Thus is innocent capitalism (every man sitting, under his own vine and fig tree, as the prophet so beautifully put it) convened into its extremely ugly counterpart, MONOPOLY capitalism.

Access to kind the key to justice

What a pity that those shouting in Seattle, Genoa, and elsewhere could not diagnose aright society's present ills, and so hit the real mark with those globalisers! Let us pause and ask ourselves: just how could a society be expected to act in any moral fashion, which is built on the immoral foundations of MONOPOLY? We groan at globalisation, but fail to see the origin of this phenomenon of our times, as also of the GMOs and so much else, including the water crisis. For these things are all simply helpful reflections staring back at us out of our own mirror, pointing the finger at our staggering on-going nonchalance -- our apparent ability to ignore the very first question every society must solve: how to institute JUSTICE in access to land. (Note: in economics the term "land" includes all natural resources.) For this sin of omission we now find that instead of having built a society on the foundations of SHARING, we have reared a society on the hideous premise of snatch-and-grab! The original snatch-and-grab is well-known to us in the term "land monopoly." ("To prove a legal title to land, one must trace it back to the man who stole it."-- Lloyd George.) Under land monopoly we were going global from the word go!

I am an enthusiastic subscriber to Permaculture publications in both Britain and America, for the movement provides us with an array of excellent, stimulating, and often highly fascinating articles. Of recent ones, I must especially mention Nick Routledge's -- on so many levels -- in issue 46, and of course (since I live right above one), the wonderful saga of the transformation of a golf course, "Designing the Permaculture Links." Then how marvelous (with Scotland's monsoon summer, and our water management nowhere) to have Water as the focus of issue 47. However, I find that articles in Permaculture publications may be rendered a bit superficial, on account of the movement's ignorance in general on the fundamental matter of rights to land.

Take the question of "Right Livelihood" -- the focus of PCA issue 46. What an opportunity to open this important matter up to its foundations! Yet nowhere in that issue did it occur to anyone to ask: What kind of a livelihood is made by those who hold onto more land than they can use? It is land that the rest of us sorely need; and, on a planet where all land is already taken up, they are then able to extract from us, in exchange for essential land access, an ever-growing slice of our earnings, in payment of land rent or land price.

Did these landowners make the land, that they should reap a "livelihood" purely from others' use of it? Or, to open the scene up a bit further: what kind of a "livelihood" is owed to those who deliberately speculate in land, withholding it from use altogether, until the desperate need of the landless shall push its price even further up? No wonder we have a problem with homelessness! Have we lost our wits, that we actually legitimise such preposterously anti-social behaviour at the very root of our dealings with one another? No wonder if -- as so many despair today -- our society worships at the altar of greed. We have set GREED as our god at its base! Gandhi spoke of "enough for everyone's need, not for everyone's greed." It is high time, then, that we grounded those words, which have roamed the upper atmosphere for far too long. Land had no cost of production, so what are we paying these "owners" of it for? In solemn landowner-speak, the landowner becomes "the provider of the land" -- but I seem to hear some ripples of laughter from Gaia at that!

The real role of these ersatz "providers" is, of course, the very opposite: that of standing in the way of those who would make use of the land. And we pay them for that role! This distorted piece of dealing, upheld by false human law, has naturally a very unsavoury reverse side to it. For if some get something for nothing, then others get nothing for something -- i.e., labour is massively underpaid.

We must find our way to establishing a just principle of landholding, for with this radical clearing-out of injustice at the root of our dealings with one another, the whole pattern of our living on this earth will change. Consequently, there will change then, too, the things we choose to produce (maybe in harmony with the earth?) and the kind of society we choose to build (maybe one of real sharing?) For all depends, naturally, on the foundations, the ground floor. Thus we would not simply rid ourselves of a whole host of problems, social and ecological, which are due entirely to our distorted building. In particular, our stressful oversized cities, which proliferate problems of every kind, have all grown up on the basis of the dispossession of the people from the land.

People sundered from the land

A deep, if unconscious, awareness of this last makes it highly understandable that people should wish to re-root themselves in the countryside. And were the land to be freed, it would be natural that small rural communities -- which have died out under our Gaia-grabbing culture -- should spring up once more, to enjoy, widespread, the happiness of "meaningful work" (issue 46). Capital, in turn, might free itself gradually from the ugly clutches of monopolism, which is the real underpinning of the stock markets of today's world. To get back to the land would not then require the tremendous pioneering efforts it does under land monopoly, nor would those who achieved it be condemned to an unnatural isolation, as so often today. What greater scope or hope could we wish, for the flourishing of a permaculture society, and of that "greater web of connectivity" mentioned in editorial 47, could we but find our way to a freeing of the land!

How far does the monopoly of land affect North America, the source of several articles on "right livelihood"? To quote from Peter Meyer's Land Rush - a Survey of America's Land: "as a generous interpretation about 3% of the population owns 95% of the privately held land in the U.S." So we see just how far the question of "right livelihood" is bedeviled by the corrupt underlying land structure! And what about that land not included in Peter Meyer's statement, which is owned by our now global corporations? What of the enormous apparatus of government requirements, which infallibly grows under a land hegemony, all tightening the land monopoly, while further raising land rent and price? Let us pause to give thought here, too, to those yet grimmer scenarios, where the West's Gaia-grabbers have extended their tentacles into the Third World, to grab the resources of other indigenous peoples. The West's corrupt system of land tenure, now globalised, has succeeded in standing the concept of "right livelihood" veritably on its head, with tragic consequences for millions. Britain of course, through her empire, played a major part in this take-over.

But these ugly workings of monopoly capitalism, and its inseparable political pursuits, are a tragedy of our own heedlessness, our failure to heed the voices of those raised long ago in protest against the commoditising of the Earth. Do we make a pretence of honouring the Christian faith? Already in the Old Testament (Levit. Ch. 25), we are warned that "the earth shall not be sold in perpetuity." There is no doubt that Jesus, in declaring he came "to fulfill the law and the prophets," well understood the import of those words and the real plight of the poor. But the wryness of his comment that "the poor ye have always with you" is generally missed. Organised religion has of course hopelessly betrayed that very sound injunction; the church in Britain is one of our biggest landowners. But fortunately, we have not lacked prophets nearer our own day.

Henry George and land rent reform

It is America which gave birth to the foremost of these for our time: Henry George, a great-souled thinker (who I am glad to recall had a Scottish grandfather!), whose seminal work Progress and Poverty, published in 1879, has sold more copies than any other book except the Bible. In France, the Physiocrats of the 18th century discerned the same principle of just land tenure as did Henry George, while in Scotland William Ogilvie and Patrick Edward Dove (18th and 19th, centuries) both made unique contributions to this work. That it was a penal offence in Britain until the 1832 Reform Act even to question the land laws, surely tells us something of the dynamite they contain, and explains the suppression of the work of these great thinkers, and hence our unfamiliarity with their names. For in its eagerness to control the minds of people, as well as every other aspect of their lives, monopoly capitalism early bought its way in into our political systems. This game them access, of course, to the vital sphere of education. Hence our educational syllabuses steer well clear of the land question! We are not taught to think about the matter of the right to land and all, and most certainly not of its simple solution, the just and natural Law of Rent.

Tom Paine and the Law of Rent

This natural Law of Rent was fitly enunciated by England's Tom Paine in the 18th century. Paine played a role in both the French and American revolutions and was famous for his Rights of Man. But have you ever seen this part quoted - "I never heard that the Creator opened an estate office to issue title-deeds to land. …Every proprietor of land owes to the community a ground rent for the land which he holds." We can surely see why our educational courses keep mum also on this aspect of Tom Paine!

Bearing in mind that the rental value of land is created by the community -- arising entirely from the people's' need for land -- we can see that the payment to the community, by the holder of land, of its full rental value every year, would correctly establish the original holder of the land to be the community as a whole, not the individual. Thus we find neatly reversed the present landlord-tenant relationship, which is as topsy-turvy as it is immoral! Furthermore, the strict return to the community, every year, by the occupier, of the full rental value of his holding, neatly prevents him from ever capitalising the (uncollected) rent into a phoney "land price."

But security of possession is also beautifully taken care of by this arrangement. For the payment annually of the land rent (justly owed to the community), fully ensures to the landholder the continuity of his holding, with entire freedom to occupy, bestow, or bequeath it as he pleases; whilst any "improvements" made to the land, such as houses, industrial buildings; etc., (representing capital -- the fruits of labour), may as freely be bought, sold, or exchanged, in the relevant marketplace, (with the ongoing rental "ticket" for the land always attached). Agricultural improvements are a special case, which can be fairly dealt with - but we will not go into that here. Finally, in every society there will always be land "at the margin," which will command no rent, but offer a living to those who wish to pursue a more marginal lifestyle.

The false market in land

Focusing again for a moment on that falsity, "land price": how indeed could we ever assess the Planet in terms of MONEY? -- the Planet that was here long before we were! Land price equals simply the capitalisation of as many years' rent ahead as the market can be made to bear, the over-reaching greed of this false market, not surprisingly, powering those "mysterious" business cycles of boom and slump.

But the great plum that this false capitalisation of the rent drops into the laps of those false title-holders is that, once Gaia can be bought and sold (like any slave), the possibility follows of hogging and hoarding land, with the immense power that can then be wielded over the excluded, and all the further privileges (evils) that follow in the train of land monopoly. For the excluded - the dispossessed - then form that incomparable pool of cheap labour, which is so coveted by the great machine-owners of monopoly capitalism, while the hapless dispossessed labourers in whatever field, left without land or capital, can be relief upon to beat down wages for jobs at virtually any price.

Hence, too, the shock-waves that run through a workforce when the lordly "bestower" of their jobs suddenly pulls out, leaving them wageless. Meanwhile the trades unions and socialist parties - meant to be protecting the workers' interests - continue on as sleepwalkers in the scene, and haven't a clue!

Let us pause for; a moment on the point that the Law of Rent, obeyed, returns to the community, for its shared use every year, the full community-created rental of its land. For do we not find right here, in the natural Law of Rent, the simplest and most essential meaning of that "sharing of the surplus" which is one of Permaculture's core ethics? Any surplus remaining after society's needs are met (and how reduced these would be amongst a people standing on their own feet!) would justly be repayable to the members of the community, equally, on a citizens' dividend basis. This would be social welfare -- on a definitely higher key! Considering the shaky foundations of today's stock markets -- with what seems their inevitable collapse in due course -- who, even among today's richest, would not opt for a more secure, because justly-based society?

There is a further point about the land rent reform, which is of some significance. For the fact that land is LOCAL suggests that the revenue from the land is best collected locally, and locally disbursed. Do we not have here additionally, then, a most practical key to local empowerment? For every community would thus have the resources to deal with its own affairs, leaving only those things it could not best undertake for itself to be delegated upwards to a more federated level. "Community empowerment" is one of today's buzz phrases, especially in Scotland, but it is mostly bandied about with little real meaning, as a kind of "sop to the plebs."

Land rent reform, by a natural process, brings about both economic and political decentralisation. The assessing of land rental values should present no problem, since it has long been established practice in Denmark, for example. Valuation rolls, publicly displayed in the town hall, would leave no scope for skullduggery, confronted with the first-hand knowledge of the local populace. In the uniquely practical path it offers to local empowerment, through self-funding from local resources (avoiding the sophisticated world of taxes), the land rent reform is a profoundly decentralist measure, and prime permaculture tool.

Since land rent is our one truly socially sourced revenue -- arising from the presence and activities of the entire community -- it sets before us very clearly how false is the substitute we have in taxation. Falling on the individual, taxes (visible and not-so-visible) are rightly most loathed by the poor, whose earning power is hardest hit by them. In fact, it was the barons of o1d, who held the power to legislate in parliament, who betook themselves to this substitute. It was attractive to them to privatize the rents, from which originally they were obligated to provide the king's army; so it was that taxation came to be instituted as our "social" fund, in place of rent. We can easily see, from studying the Law of Rent, that this true social fund, sourced from ground level, would amply replace its false and feeble one-floor-up substitute.


The operation of rent applies with any factor that makes one piece of land superior to other lands. There are others besides agriculture differences. A good harbor makes land around it valuable. The land further away is less valuable. Growth of population is another significant influence. When people settle in one particular section of a good piece of agricultural land, one that yields four, so to speak, a town is likely to grow up there. Though land within the town is no more fertile than the land outside, a productiveness of a new kind has arisen. Through cooperation and specialization of labor, that section of the land is of much greater productivity. It now yields forty instead of four. If the four land were free, rent within the town would be thirty-six.

Industries grow up, new machines are invited, and much more can be produced. The productivity of industrial land has become seventy, which is greater than the town's productivity of forty. Since more is produced, new materials are needed, and this extends the margin of production to land that yields only one. Wages then become one, and rent is the excess on all superior lands.

Taxation, easily manipulated by those advantaged at the incomparible ground level, including by the workings of this level up through the stock market, has naturally never managed to close the gap between the rich and poor. It was never meant to, and never will. Any society that tries to finance itself from taxes will eventually go bankrupt.

Plain common sense

The Law of Rent is a natural law. That is to say: the rental value of land cannot be prevented from arising, for it reflects the comparative desirability of differing grades of land. Our task is therefore to see that the rent is channeled aright. In removing any windfall gain from the occupancy of a site, the Law of Rent is the true "leveler of the playing field." It further accords with natural law in being timeless and universal; it is plain common sense once pointed out. It is not surprising to discover, therefore, that in former times the peasants of Java conducted their lives on the basis of this just Law, for several centuries during a period when Java flourished. Nor is Java the only example of such a society. But we live, today, in a world run mad on land monopoly -- on the commoditising of Gaia -- and even the Green movement seems to have failed to take account of this rather strange treatment of our Earthly Mother.

I found some bits in issue 47 surprising in this respect. In the fine "Manifesto for Seeds -- We Have Always Known This," I stumbled over "Each of us has a plot of earth to serve" -- Perhaps it was placed there as a piece of wishful thinking? It certainly remains firmly in that realm for the Scots -- in fact, for countless numbers in the Western world, let alone for millions in the Third World. Then, in "Restore the Earth, Restore the People," we read of how "quality of life" is "fundamentally measured." But strangely, although access to water is included, there is no mention of the fundamental question of access to land, which would of course include water, and is vital to unlock the door to the other basic needs, shelter and food. What a contrast with the cry from the Third World: "Land is security -- land is freedom -land is life!" (recorded by Jeremy Seabrook in Freedom Unfinished, a moving volume about Bangladesh).

Finally, in a review of Local Trade, Local Wealth, we find this book regards money as "the principal means by which economic power is exerted in the modern world." Really?! Here is a counter-offering from a small country with a good deal more insight: "The stark fact is that whoever owns the land controls Scotland." ("Land Ownership -- the Big Issue," Dundee Courier, July 1, 2002) As the saying goes, "if you had all the money in the world, my lad, and I had all the land, I'd charge you all your money for one night's rent!"

Land and nature belong to the commons

The article "Water as Commodity" documents well the scene as we view it today, pointing out at the end that we need "a new water ethic." But the commoditisers of Gaia have so run away with our thinking, that we still cannot see that water is but a part Gala's bounteous gifts to us, and that our dealing with water must be viewed within the larger embrace of our dealings with Gaia. For it is entirely through our folly in allowing the false privatisation of Gaia in the first place, that we now reach the point where one of her primary gifts to us is being catastrophically destroyed. We would not now be needing "a new water ethic," if we had but nurtured at the outset at the heart of our society, a true LAND ethic embracing all natural resources. It is that land ethic for which Aldo Leopold in his much-loved classic Sand County Almanac, so eloquently appealed. For should we not have cared, in the first place, that Gaia was not privatised?

How many other hideous problems of our day, such as Third World "debt," would have had no place in our thinking either, had a true land ethic but prevailed!, But now it is the more advanced thinkers in economics and ecology in Africa, one of the poorest parts of the Third World, who have grasped this point; and it has set them far ahead of us in proclaiming that they need no munificent cancellation of their "debts" by the West. They have begun to discern how it was the false commoditising, or privatisation, of their land which was the begetter of those false debts in the beginning. By choosing to free their land to its own people, through collecting its rental values annually for the community (precisely the Law of Rent), they have no need of that phony foreign "aid", nor ever had, out of which those "debts" have arisen. (See website: www.henrvgeorge.org/alodia). So we see how the whole situation suddenly reverses itself! It now becomes a question of how we can ever compute what we, the West, owe back to the Third World, for that ROBBERY of their natural resources we have so unremittingly pursued. This robbery never should have been, and ran riot entirely on the basis of a false economic system (the commoditisation of the Earth), imposed from without upon an unsuspecting Third World.

Let us recognise the origins, equally, of that massive debt which is now increasingly engulfing ordinary citizens everywhere. If we are born onto this Planet without a foothold, we are falsely set in debt before our life's journey has even begun; and precious few of us in this situation will ever manage to catch up.

Our great task is therefore to catch up with these forward African thinkers, and with those Javanese peasants of 250 years ago; to catch up, indeed, with our own great thinkers, whose wisdom has been denied us for far too long. We shall then find that we denounce the commoditising of water simply as part of the whole false commoditising of Gaia. For not only has our water suffered. The same distorted structure of the economy has hideously turned into "commodities" (so far as it has been able) the entire animal kingdom of the Earth, not to mention her human inhabitants, as Anti-Slavery International has documented. But do not Care of the Earth (which includes her creatures) and Care of People stand as the two first ethics of the Permaculture movement?

Let us see that we catch up, then, with those thinkers who are truly of the New Age. For so shall we form part of today's most vital "web of connectivity" -- the movement that is dedicated to ending the buying and selling of our Earthly Mother, and which holds the essential key to achieving this. Let us do so not only for our own sakes -- in our now visibly disintegrating Western society, reaping the terrible fruits of its immoral foundations. Let us do so also for the sake of all those other beings, and creatures, who exist on Earth today in a state of wretchedness, enserfed -- within the ever-tightening noose of land monopoly -- to those who are now their global masters. …That noose, which in the name of globalisation, holds in its grip the very Earth, having rechristened as "commodities" both Gaia herself and all her bounteous gifts to us.