Gosh, isn’t it appalling that rich people own the land in Britain? This of course having nothing at all to do with cultural history, where the first thing any man did on becoming rich was to buy some land. But, you know, there we go, those who would reform the world never do trouble themselves to find out how it came to be the way it is.
Half of England is owned by less than 1% of the population
Half of England is owned by less than 1% of its population, according to new data shared with the Guardian that seeks to penetrate the secrecy that has traditionally surrounded land ownership. The findings, described as “astonishingly unequal”, suggest that about 25,000 landowners – typically members of the aristocracy and corporations – have control of half of the country.
Oh, it’s not even true. Sure, a corporation is a legal person but that’s not really the point is it? The corporation is then owned by multiple – usually enough – people. So it’s not 25,000 people at all. How many millions of shareholders in the water utilities?
Guy Shrubsole, author of the book in which the figures are revealed, Who Owns England?, argues that the findings show a picture that has not changed for centuries. “Most people remain unaware of quite how much land is owned by so few,” he writes, adding: “A few thousand dukes, baronets and country squires own far more land than all of middle England put together.” “Land ownership in England is astonishingly unequal, heavily concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite.”
Well, what we’d really like to know is how does that compare with other countries? Possibly even some regression analysis showing that such concentrated – or normal, or unusual, whatever – ownership patterns correlate with the general wealth of a society or perhaps its poverty. After all, we are pretty sure that no one owning the land, or the State as in Ethiopia, is correlated with poverty.
Shrubsole estimates that “the aristocracy and gentry still own around 30% of England”. This may even be an underestimate, as the owners of 17% of England and Wales remain undeclared at the Land Registry. The most likely owners of this undeclared land are aristocrats, as many of their estates have remained in their families for centuries. As these estates have not been sold on the open market, their ownership does not need to be recorded at the Land Registry, the public body responsible for keeping a database of land and property in England and Wales.
However, we do need to point out that this needn’t be a problem. If the Duke of Buccleuch owns 200,000 acres of Border moorland at 50 pence an acre who the hell cares? Bugger all that can be done with that land anyway which is why some
porridge wog Scot owns it.
Now it was true that those aristocratic land holdings were a source of great and concentrated power in our past. And there was indeed a good argument to do something about it. Which we did – we changed the price of it. How did we do that? We adopted free trade in food.
That was the abolition of the Corn Laws of course. Instead of restrictions upon wheat (which we called corn back then) imports, restrictions which just bid up the rent on land which wheat could be grown on, we went and used cheap land elsewhere to feed the workers their daily bread. Straight David Ricardo that this would happen too. That freedom of import also meant that when the American prairies opened up in the 1870s – really the transatlantic steamship that allowed it – and then the Ukraine in the 1890s – the railway there – the price of agricultural land in England slumped and then slumped again.
The aristocratic rural estates became interesting sums of money – sure and wouldn’t we all like one – rather than the essence of concentrated economic power that they had been. This is why the National Trust of course. Those fields around the grand house no longer produced enough income to support and maintain the grand house. A thousand or two acres now has trouble supporting a farmhouse let alone 5 acres of roof.
By the way, that really is a proof perfect that the abolition of the Corn Laws worked, that existence of the National Trust.
That is, we’ve already solved the problem of concentrated land holding. Not by confiscating the stuff but just by allowing free trade to change the price of it. We’re done that is, no more is needed.