Control of land has been a key driver of wealth, power and conflict for most of human history. The industrial revolution changed all that as power shifted from landowners to the merchant class. Now much of the economy by value has gone totally virtual, and Facebook wants us to live in the metaverse. But could this seeming disconnect from land be as ephemeral as the carbon bubble that made it possible?
Moving from the city to a small village near Oxford last year brought this history into focus for me. The biggest event in our adopted village happened in the early 19th century when villagers rebelled against their exclusion from the common land they had cultivated for centuries. This land was enclosed by landowners with the same hedges that we now celebrate for their ecological value.
There is no record of what happened to our village rebels, but in nearby villages you can read in the churches of the slaughter of villagers who fought such enclosures. This pattern of the powerful overriding the traditional rights of the less powerful, often with the use of violence, to control land has happened and continues to happen around the world. Just think of the Highland Clearances, colonialisation and, most recently, land grabs in Africa for food production.
Now there is a new dimension to control of land: regenerating ecosystems. This is clearly a good cause. We desperately need to repair the ecosystems we have so badly damaged. However, it is worth recalling that the claimed aim of enclosures was also good: creating more efficient agriculture to feed a growing population. As ever the “how” is as important as the “why”.
We desperately need to repair the ecosystems we have so badly damaged.
As so-called green finance becomes a thing, Dasgupta blesses integrating biodiversity into markets and ex-City types seek redemption by regenerating their newly purchased land. ow is this going to work out? There is clearly a lot of environmental passion driving many of the people involved, but can this also be matched with a passion for fairness and inclusion? After all, once the carbon party is over, my guess is that we are all really going to need our common land.
So in this issue, we focus on the intersection between land, ecology and the political economy.
Clive Spash gives his take on Dasgupta’s report on biodiversity economics, Joe Zammit-Lucia examines why philanthropy-driven rewilding is political and Georges Félix looks at the land sovereignty movement in Puerto Rico.
Douglas Eger sets out his plans for natural capital assets, while Willy Diddens puts the case for the opposition, and I suggest a different cooperative approach to financing ecological regeneration.
Looking further afield, Grimot Nane examines climate change inaction in Nigeria, Roland Kupers questions whether hydrogen is a real green solution and Rick Rowden proposes fixes to the international debt system.
Returning to economics and economists, Guy Dauncey questions the focus of a group of progressive economists, Danielle Guizzo recounts how economists failed to see academic giant Barbara Wooton, and Joris Tieleman of Rethinking Economics talks about their latest initiative to expand economic curricula with the publication of Economy Studies.
Finally in our regular columns, Frances Coppola examines housing affordability and Verity gets up close and personal with natural capital on an estate.
As we seek to understand how the monster Putin came to be, we need to consider the role of economists in the 90s in Russia.
As Putin’s brutal war in Ukraine continues to flatten cities and their people, it may be difficult to find mental space for anything else. But of course connections are not difficult to see. This is a war for control of land as well as ideology. Furthermore as we seek to understand how the monster Putin came to be, we need to consider the role of economists in the 90s in Russia. Katharina Pistor explains how they advocated privileging market reform over political reform through “shock therapy” and we are living with the consequences.
Another reminder, if we needed one, of the power of economic ideas.
So my best wishes, particularly to the brave Ukrainian people who have already shown the power of political reform.