"Private Property may not actually be theft
- but it has some pretty nasty habits!"

"From Ownership into Stewardship"
London School of Economics
Saturday 19th November 2005

A one day conference on our need to
re-think Ownership and Property

The Contributions
If you think that there are topics we haven’t 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 Speaker.
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 don’t think about the ties between us, we tend not to see the obligations that arise from them. And this bounded-object-which–can-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 down.

Plenary Session 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 policies?”

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 to organise.

Plenary Session 1: Third Speaker.
John Christensen - CV
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 tax do.

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 doesn’t 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 change.

Plenary Session 1: Fourth Speaker. Dan Plesch - CV
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).

Plenary Session 2
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 - CV
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 Ian’s 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 - CV
Green Economics

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
Shared Interest

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
- CV
The Guild

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 prices.

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.

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.


Albert Rowland
CV & Rosamund Stock - CV
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 enterprise.

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 - CV
Productive Capitalism.

Robert Corfe introduced the idea of two different types of Capitalists: Users and Renters. Capital providers are "occupiers", shared "usufruct" or "investors").
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

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

"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 and co-operation.

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