Posts Tagged ‘Enclosure’

The Human Cost of Neo Liberal Housing Policy

December 5, 2014

Since the late 1970s and the advent of neoliberalism in Great Britain, our capital city has been blighted by an exponential growth in homelessness juxtaposed to burgeoning concentrations of wealth, evoking images of Dickensian London at the height of the Industrial Revolution. Indeed, so terrible were the living conditions of the working classes in Britain, certainly  right up to the end of the Second World War, and beyond, that Keynesian economist William Beveridge saw the eradication of slum housing and provision of good quality homes with running water and proper sanitation as key to abolishing his five giants: Squalor, Ignorance, Want, Idleness and Disease.

When elected in 1979, Margaret Thatcher would have no doubt been familiar with the  Beveridge Report  – the blueprint for the British Welfare State. This begs the question as to whether her assault on the social commons, by championing the Right to Buy and her pledge to make people pay the real cost of their housing, was a deliberately focussed attack on the beating heart of a nation. In concert with the neoliberal view that unemployment of more than 3 million people was a price worth paying for economic development, an attack on something as fundamental as housing instilled fear into those fortunate enough to have a home and a job. This had the immediate effect of weakening any opposition to the neoliberal ideology underpinning her political objective of rolling back the state.

The Housing Act of 1980 was the first of a whole raft of measures introduced towards this end, covering everything from the privatisation of electricity, gas, water, transport and communications, to the obliteration of the trade unions and demonisation of unmarried mothers (reminiscent of a medieval witchunt), each one an incremental step towards a new enclosure of the commons. 

The austerity measures introduced by the coalition government elected in 2010, have delivered even deeper cuts to an inadequate social welfare budget. Further cuts to Housing Benefit, soaring rents and the introduction of a Bedroom Tax have exacerbated an already desperate housing situation, as private and social landlords now seek to evict tenants unable to pay ‘the real cost’ of their housing; like those-living on the New Era Housing Estate in Hackney whose rents are set to triple within the next two years following the sale of their homes to American based private equity fund, Westbrook Partners, and the Focus E15 mothers evicted from the Carpenters Estate by Newham Council, to make way for a luxury housing development and the onward march of gentrification.

But desperate times call for desperate measures and those affected have made it clear they will not go quietly. In times of adversity we often find strengths we never knew we had, and this is most certainly true of the tenants of the New Era and Carpenters estates who have simply refused to accept this injustice, and instead are campaigning for the right to affordable homes in the place of their choosing.

Earlier this year the E15 mothers occupied four flats on the Carpenter Estate, eventually forcing Newham Council to rehouse 40 families in properties earmarked for demolition, and, following widespread public outcry and political intervention from Hackney Council and prospective London Mayoral Candidate Sadiq Khan, Tory M.P. Richard Benyon, one of the richest men in Britain and major shareholder in Westbrook Partners, finally acquiesced to the voice of the commons and sold his share in New Era.

The war may not be won but the battle is certainly not over.



December 4, 2011

Up until our serious of lectures on the commons and the different discourses around them I wouldn’t say I was fully informed of the origin of ‘Tragedy of the commons’, its direct and indirect connotations and the magnitude of its influence in our world’s economic and environmental policies and the debates it stirred. However, since our classes and my further readings I have learned that there is a lot into it and with the growing wave of discontent of neoliberalism looming in our world today it may be the best time problematizing Hardin’s theory. I hereby share my insights.

A number of questions can be raised on Hardin’s argument and the evidence he used of the ‘pasture open to all is destined to ruin as each herdsman is compelled to increase his herd, each pursuing his own interest…’ and on his proposed best solution: enclosures/ privatisation of the commons.

There are a number of questions that may come to a critical mind:

• Is it really rational to argue commons should not exist because they will always be mismanaged? Does that mean humans are not trusted when they act in groups, in a community? Are shared resources in communities really free of regulations and therefore destined to ruin?

• Have Hardin’s suggested Enclosures rescued tragedy of the commons? Is privatization the only way to protect the commons? Can commons based solutions be considered?

Historical truth and Validity of Hardin’s theory:

During our lecture after hearing Hardin’s account the first thing I thought was it may be true within the English cultural context but you can’t generalize across all cultures that resources shared/used in common will inevitably be doomed. I am sure most of us can come up with empirical evidences from our respective countries of origin, if not other corners of the world, of communities that live or used to live on different commons such as fisheries, forest, grazing land etc. without ruining the resources they depended on.

Contrary to what Hardin’s argument may lead you to believe it was also true even in the context of England. I found it shocking really, to realize the practice of the English commoners in regard to their common land that Hardin used as evidence to substantiate his theory actually lacks historical truth.

In this regard anthropologist Arthur McEvoy, argues that the ‘Tragedy “misrepresents the way common lands were used in the archetypal case” (i.e. England before enclosure). Similarly, British historian E P Thompson criticizes Hardin’s theory as “historically uninformed” and that it fails to see that commoners were not without common-sense’. Indeed I tend to agree it is an insult on the intelligence and history of the peasant farmers. Moreover, it may also send a wrong message in believing English culture to be individualistic.

The English farmers had methods of governing livestock numbers on a common land known as “Stinting”.

Thus a common or pasture may be said to be ‘stinted’: each grazier holds a certain number of stints, and a formula adjusts their value for different livestock (e.g. one stint = one ewe with lamb, four stints = one horse, etc.). The stinting formulae vary between commons and pastures. Stinted common land or pasture was managed by a voluntary association known as Stint-holders’ association/committee.

As is evident with above English common pasture it is not always true to assume that commons will be open access and unregulated. They are governed by cultural values, norms, and standards that control where, when, and how much is used. These values impose serious sanctions on over-use of the commons which also makes them sustainable from an ecological and cultural point of view.

Enclosures or Commons based solutions ?

Have Hardin’s suggested enclosures done better in preventing the ruin of the commons or bringing social wellbeing?

Our world’s environmental perils including global warming tell us that not everything is better off under private ownership? ‘Economic market operates like a runaway truck. It has no internal mechanism telling it when to stop—it can’t stop depleting the commons that sustain it.’

Simon Fairlie in his article “A Short History of Enclosure in Britain” (Land Magazine Issue 7, 2009.): says, “Over the course of a few hundred years, much of Britain’s land has been privatized —currently, in our ‘property-owning democracy’, nearly half the country (Britain) is owned by 40,000 land millionaires or 0.06 per cent of the population…” which is an empirical fact that it may be more appropriate to talk about the tragedy of enclosures rather than the commons.

Is it at all logical to argue commons should not exist because they will always be mismanaged? Who would you trust better a community managing and sharing resources as a group or individuals managing it? If the later, would this not be a contradiction to the principle of true democracy?

I think today more than any time in history COMMONS-BASED SOLUTIONS which are characterized by ‘distinctive innovations and policies that remedy problems by helping people manage resources cooperatively and sustainably’ should be urged.