Property may not actually be theft
- but it has some pretty nasty habits!"
Ownership into Stewardship"
London School of Economics
Saturday 19th November 2005
A one day conference on
our need to
re-think Ownership and Property
If you think that there are topics we
havent covered then you are right. Ownership is such
a huge subject that it would be impossible to cover it in
just one day. We are not for example covering PFI and PPP.
Nor are we dealing directly with TRIPS (Trade Related Intellectual
Property). These issues are being dealt with at length in
other forums. We have chosen instead to look at the themes
that run through issues: we are talking about the concept
of ownership itself, what it does and why it is a problem.
Please note that these conference notes were prepared by
the coordinator and represent an overview of the conference
rather than notes of presentations.
|Plenary Session 1: First
Rosamund Stock - CV
The Ownership Tool
Ownership is a problem at the most fundamental level
because it affects the very way we think. It affects not
just what we think, it affects how we think. Anthropologists
pointed out that how a society treats the world around
it is the same as the way it treats people. The external
(usually material) environment and human society are,
in most cultures, part of a seamless whole. Western culture
separates them but we still use the same basic model:
the world is a collection of atomised things,
things that are there to be picked up and used.
As a result is that we look at individual things or people
and not the ties which lie between them. And things are
created by having boundaries. Human beings are bounded
by their skins, our property is bounded within a fence
or barrier, the world is enclosed. And because we dont
think about the ties between us, we tend not to see the
obligations that arise from them. And this bounded-object-whichcan-be-appropriated
model, ownership has become the off-the-shelf
tool of choice for dealing with just about any problem
from NHS GP services to pensions. And as a tool it is
inappropriate, not very good and has a habit of breaking
1: Second Speaker.
Prem Sikka - CV
Taming the Corporations
We were particularly pleased to welcome Prem as our keynote
speaker because he and his colleagues at the Association
for Accountancy and Busiiness Affairs (AABA) have been some
of the few people to raise the problems of accounting and
accountability long before Enron and WorldCom and they remain
one of the few groups to make a proper analysis of the problem
and campaign for wide-reaching change. He has been the scourge
of the accountancy profession, which he sees as necessary
for public accountability. He has also argued against the
spread of one single private /commercial model of organisations
into every corner of social endeavour, and criticised the
narrowing of the public space.
Do you wish that someone would challenge the prevailing
orthodoxies, disseminate competing views and develop alternative
This is exactly what this conference was about, and for
that matter, what the Network Project is about. We look
forward to working with Prem in the future. We are also
particularly appreciative that someone better known and
established than we are gave us a helping hand in our efforts
Plenary Session 1: Third Speaker.
Tax Justice Network
We are also very pleased that John Christensen joined
us. Rather like the AABA the tax justice network is an
a loose network of activists and researchers which aims
to work across national boundaries, because that is the
way the lobbyists on behalf of those who would not pay
Alongside the critique of accounting practices, comes
the analysis of tax avoidance and evasion, but also of
the fundamental assumptions about not paying tax. The
assumption is that it is perfectly acceptable to want
to pay as little tax as possible. What this means (and
this is true in spades for companies) is that people are
not prepared to pay their fair share of the costs of society.
The Tax Justice Network have just produced an excellent
report on the way that taxation does and doesnt
happen with Christian Aid Tax us if you Can.
They highlight the fundamental injustice in the way that
those with the most pay proportionately the least in tax,
but also the way in which tax avoidance and evasion have
corrupted large areas of commercial activity as well as
disadvantaging the poor. They too are prepared to criticise
fundamental assumptions and structures and campaign for
Plenary Session 1: Fourth Speaker.
Dan Plesch -
Corporate Social (Ir)Responsibility
Dan Plesch is someone whom we know from his writing,
recently for example in The Times, who has also
been putting together a sustained critique of corporate
power. Importantly, he has identified the key factors
that are both the source of the problems and the important
points for campaigning. While it is easy to think of corporations
(or capitalism for that matter) as this ever evolving,
hard-to-get-hold-of entity, in fact its basis is fairly
straightforward: shareholder value and limited liability
are the twin pillars of its modus operandi, and the source
of its corrosive influence. It is to these points that
he directs our attention because of its power without
responsibility and its basic denial of all obligations
(and hence all social relationships).
Having laid out the some of the most salient problems
with ownership, and indicated what needs to change and what
can change, we turned to the solutions, ideas and initiatives
that are already out there, changing things.
Plenary Session 2: Fifth Speaker.
Ian Brown -
We Need to Learn from the Neo-Liberals
The afternoon session is prefaced by a presentation introducing
the Network Project itself. One of the primary aims of
the project is to consider the ideas that are current,
and the new forms of social organisation that are already
emerging, from within a political perspective. Our starting
point is Ians analysis of the neo-liberal project,
what it is, what it set out to do, and how it succeeded.
We can learn from this both the importance of having a
political project but also the need to build a framework
of ideas within which people can co-ordinate their efforts.
Plenary Session 2: Sixth Speaker.
James Page -
It may seem strange that a group starting out as a Labour
Party organisation should invite a Green speaker. But
the truth is that many of the issues that we as democratic
socialists care about are now finding support within the
Green Party, and Greens are doing some original, and radical
thinking about economic reform. And we believe that the
future may well not be specifically party based but be
a shifting complex of coalitions. Cooperation will be
the watchword, not the competition forced upon us by our
current political framework.
Plenary Session 2: Sixth Speaker.
Mark Hayes - CV
Rosamund Stock met Mark Hayes a few years ago at the
AGM of Shared Interest a lending organisation
closely linked to the fair trade movement. He spoke compellingly
about different types of ownership and the different relationships
from which they arose and which they created. Shared Interest
is an example of cooperative ownership in practice. The
members of SI (and there are about 8000) are letting their
money be used for cooperative and altruistic purposes
- a sort of living refutation of the there is nothing
you can do about human nature argument.
Plenary Session 2: Seventh Speaker.
Nicky Stevenson -
Another riposte to those who claim that the market alone,
peopled by individuals seeking only their own self-interest,
can produce socially desirable outcomes comes from the
existence of social enterprise. The sector has grown enormously
over the last few years and does actually encompass a
wide range of organisations from social firms (essentially
commercial trading companies with social aims), old-fashioned
(and much resurgent) coops (groups of individuals who
come together for their individual self interest), to
voluntary organisations who trade commercially.
Plenary Session 2: Eighth Speaker.
Chris Cook - CV
It is a few years now since Chris spotted the potential
in a change to the law allowing the legal form of a partnership
to have limited liability (Limited Liability Partnerships).
What he spotted was that this created an inherently cooperative
structure of co-ownership because all the different stakeholders
are brought together in a legal envelope in which they
all have an interest in making the enterprise work. In
particular he has drawn attention to the beneficial relationship
this can create between the providers of capital and those
wishing to use capital.
In the Partnership Model, any limited liability should
come with a cost. Corporations should buy insurance rather
than be given limited libility. LLPs - Limited Liability
Partnerships are an optimal way of investing money. They
can be used as a forward purchase, but not in cash, rather
as a percentage of use over time. For example, selling
future production today, known as "asset based finance."
Terry McGrenera asked about what could be done about
Council housing being sold off to developers. Some discussion
of community land trust and freehold trust, which put
owner and renter into partnership. Putting land into trust
removes inflation and puts a break on the rise of housing
Referring to the "principle agent problem"
there was extended discussion of possible uses of LLPs
and examples like the Olympic Village. For instance if
we have ten pension funds invested in properties, with
the land remaining "in the commons", this works
for "posties" and for others who may be lower
paid, finding ethical investors and taking 5% net from
each and redistributing.The ownership of the land is put
in trust, and each tenant can sell shares in the house,
which is owned by the partnership of investors, and need
never be sold again.
Musharaf was mentioned as the Muslim conterpart to LLPs
because they also involve sharing the risk of an investment
between investors and capital users. One comment was that
an LLP encourages the land developer to seek higher value
in the building (as opposed to the usual cheap buildings
developers build in order to maximize profits), and build
more energy efficient apartments or houses. An LLP turns
the current development model on its head. www.opencapital.net
Plenary Session 2: Ninth Speaker.
Jock Coates - CV
Community Land Trusts.
No one needs reminding of the mess that private ownership
of housing has created. If ever there was an example of
market failure this is it. Markets have no space for social
values and the more individualised they are the more difficult
it is to introduce them. However, Community Land Trusts
have been emerging over the last few years as a solution
to the problem of affordable housing, and also a mutual
model for those who do not wish to participate in the
kind of social relationships forced upon us by the conventional.
housing market. But it is also an important new form of
co-ownership that is inherently cooperative. www.communitylandtrust.salford.ac.uk
WORKSHOP No 1:
Albert Rowland CV & Rosamund Stock
Economic Democracy and Participation.
One of the most important contributors to our regular
workshop series has been Albert Rowland. It was he who
first introduced the idea of stewardship, which he and
Ian Brown have developed into our Stewardship/ Partnership
Approach. He has developed an idea of Citizens
Ownership in which productive enterprises are owned
by their workforce in a form of ESOP, but that the source
of authority is through the works council. However, that
works council (or, according to Rosamund any other representative
body) is split into three (possibly more) blocks, and
each kind of membership or shareholding is characterised
by accountability to the major stakeholders of the business.
Albert has kept alive the idea of real economic democracy,
but with an understanding that no enterprise is an island,
and that its structure, both of ownership and governance
must reflect the network of obligations in which it exists,
since without that nurturing society there would be no
Brian Ragbourne - CV
and Fred Day - CV
Philosophical Challenges to the Status Quo.
Brian Ragbourne: Few people will realised that to this day
the primary legal justification for our ownership of land,
in particular, is that in the Bible, God gave the land to
Adam. As arguments go it lacks much contemporary resonance!
Fred Day spoke about the ideas of Thomas Hodgskin and his
legacy in current thinking His presentation highlighted
an anarchistic concept of property as illustrated in the
1820s & 30s by Thomas Hodgskin and in the 1980s &
90s by David Ellerman (of The World Bank). Although by modern
considerations their ideas are seemingly radical, it can
be shown that they derived from a Lockian (labour) theory
of property, and illustrate the logical and philosophical
inconsistency of neo-liberal property conceptions."
WORKSHOP No 3:
Robert Corfe -
Robert Corfe introduced the idea of two different types
of Capitalists: Users and Renters. Capital providers are
"occupiers", shared "usufruct" or
Michael Albert's - Rentier mode of capitalism is dependent
on bank borrowing. Postwar production saw different systems
of capitalism develop, with productive capitalism of Europe
in opposition to that of the Far East. Most important:
post 1989, the US (as personified by Leo Strauss) felt
that neoliberalism was The One Way.
As in the book "The End of History," there were
no alternatives imaginable.
How do we get our ideas accepted outside of this conference?
We need to concretise our ideas. His book "Freedom
from America" may be helpful. All social welfare
systems (and social capitalism) are under attack here
and on the continent of Europe. Book
Reference: The Spirit of New Socialism
John Courtneidge -
The Fair World Project
The following Published Letter to the Editor, the Guardian
Weekly, September 23-29 2005, under the title Fairer World
is Possible: (Originally offered title: Abolishing poverty
- creating a fair world) pretty much says it all - otherwise,
please see www.interestfreemoney.org/list.htm
"Given that only five mechanisms cause inequality
(theft, rent, interest, dividends, and unequal pay for
work), the search for a fairer, or even, fair world is
not impossible (Polly Toynbee, The chasm between us, and
Guardian Weekly supplement, September 16-22 2005).
Here at the Fair World Project, we believe that five
policy proposals are all that are needed to create a fair,
and therefore safe and peaceful, world. Namely, the creation
of the notion and reality of commonweal; the guarantee
of incomes for all, fixed between a social agreed lower
and upper limit; the conversion of workplaces into appropriate
co-operatives (worker co-ops for the market sector, community
co-ops for all others); the abolition of banking for profit;
and a social determination to move from a debt-based social
philosophy, to one that is based upon an ethic of nonviolence
Within the globalised, e-connected, peace, social and
ecological justice communities, such proposals are well
formulated. All that is now needed is a social movement
to bring these proposals into globalised reality."
John Courtneidge, The Fair World Project