Discussion: The Importance of Land Ownership

One of the United States’ democratizing characteristics has been the relatively widespread possibility of land ownership. What is the importance of land ownership today? How is this changing? Discuss.

“No man shall be chosen a member of parliament who has less than five hundred acres of freehold within the precinct for which he is chosen; nor shall any have a vote in choosing the said member that hath less than fifty acres of freehold within the said precinct.” — The Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina, 1669

Map: American Expansion – U.S.A. and Gran Colombia

What are the killer apps?

  1. I think in the general sphere land ownership is not something most people can hope for, but at the same time it’s still important, even if that ownership is always originally threatened by things like eminent domain, the potential interest of any project with millions of dollars involved, etc. Land has always translated into power over others and it still does..

  2. Widespread land ownership, when realized, is a good thing. The problem today is the same as in the beginning: indentured servitude. Today we call it credit. The free choice to enter the contract doesn’t mean that indentured servitude was a good thing. Instead, it was a means of holding back access to land for the poor and for newcomers. It was a barrier to entry, not a gate of access. In spirit and intent, it was no different from slavery (technically, it was possible to be freed, but did it happen? And how long did indentured servants serve? Did they, or their descendents, actually prosper?). It’s really a stretch, Niall, to practically celebrate indentured servitude as you do in your film, and half an hour later call slavery a sin. They are the same. Period.

    • I don’t know if NF celebrates indentured servitude; certainly it is nothing to celebrate but, I think, that what he is celebrating is the ability, Lockian legal interjection, to acquire property after working off their debt. (they were there due to their indebtedness/poverty, correct?) That seems to distinguish the US from all previous historical/polotical systems.

  3. What about Mugabe’s attempted distribution of land in Zimbabwe which has had the opposite effect on the economy? Productive land is also a finite resource. Is control of the movement of ‘electronic money’ and the continuing and rapid concentration of wealth in North America the Achilles Heel of its continued dominance?

    • Do you really expect something that Mugabe and his corrupt system is going to work??

    • Mug4be’s land distribution worked fine for the rural folks who worked on the land. On the other hand, the European sanction on Zimb4bwe had a devastating effect on the urban people, who depended on imperia1ist currency to survive.

  4. To be blunt, I found this program to be Anglophilic and smug.
    Again and again, Ferguson refers to the US has having being born with “original sin,” due to the system of slavery. As a British colony, the US inherited the system of slavery — it didn’t create it. We abolished slavery, as did the UK in the 1800s. However, the system of indentured servitude continued in British colonies and possessions until nearly WWI. Thank goodness our ancestors fought a war — against the world’s mightiest colonial power — to throw off the yoke of the aristocracy and a state church. The aristocracy even has its own house of Parliament. Long live Washington, and enough of American history viewed through the lens of the UK. At this time of year, maybe PBS will feature a program with historians sympathetic to an American view. David McCulloch or Thomas Fleming, perhaps.

    • Yes, or anyone who is actually a historian rather than an anglo-missionary with a ready supply of anecdotes to support his story-line?

  5. Not all white males were eligible to vote even in colonial times as not all owned property.

  6. Niall Ferguson is a racist, pro-imperial hack. His clever claim that “segregation was not responsible for the increase of American wealth” does not actually refute the argument that racial slavery most certainly did. His version of “North American” history (the English vs. the Spanish–notice how he left out the French?) is similar to the elementary version of US history I encountered in rural schools in the 1970s reading materials printed 20 years earlier. Ferguson presents ahistorical comparisons which make no sense: the failure of Bolivar’s dream of a unified South America “proves” how successful the “North American” system worked? Seriously? This is not academic, critical history, This apologist BS that PBS should be ashamed to broadcast.

    • I actually think that NFsaid the opposite, CM, that segregation was responsible for American wealth. I think that you got that wrong.

      You mention the French and then you say similar to US history in the 1970s. WHAT DO THE FRENCH HAVE TO DO WITH/IN US HISTORY??

      NF apparently didn’t think that the French in America left much of a footprint. If you disagree make your case.

      I don’t see where he is racist or pro-imperial. Make your case.

      • No, Ferguson said that George Wallace was wrong in his claim that segregation had everything to do with American prosperity. Ferguson did not say that slavery had everything to do with it–it is his usual semantic slight of hand. Ferguson left out the French because theyu muddle up his false (ahistorical) comparison to South American independence and prosperity vs North American prosperity and independence. Ferguson repeatedly stresses “North American” not American or US. To do so reveals the weakness of his comparison and to mention the French involves having to mention what was going on in Europe during colonial independence in the Americas furthering weakening the comparison. (Just for your edification Hugh, the British colonies were an important part of the of war between Britain and France in the 1760s and the French Revolution had enormous repercussions around the world—now why wouldn’t Ferguson mention that?

        Ferguson, in other writings (books and specifically the Financial Times) has very much made the case for imperialism.

      • Slavery certainly was not the reason for American wealth. It helped certain individuals get wealthy certainly, but that has always been true. We must remember this sober fact: slavery has been nearly universal in human history until a Christianized Europe did away with it. This was quite unique in history. Slavery was only revived in the West through colonial expansion and reserved for certain races and on colonized land. While this is nothing to be proud of for certain… the fact is that the Western slavery was always limited since some time after the fall of the Roman Empire. The idea that there was anything wrong with slavery at all was unique to Western Christian thought. In other words, if slavery made a nation rich the United States would not have been on the cutting edge in that regard by any means.

  7. This show is just neoliberal punditry used to justify the success of western civilization. Every justfication comes from anecdotal evidences. There are much better researched work on the same topic, and it isn’t because of competition/privatization.

  8. A healthy dose of competition would do Dr. Ferguson and PBS programming a lot of good. An opposing view is hard to find in mass media.

  9. I am too surprised that the simple idea that culture matters, and some cultures ARE “better” than others in terms of economical development of society and freedom and prosperity of an individual, is being voiced on PBS. Multiculturalism became a reigning idea (nobody want to be called racist)in any sort of polite company and a de facto model of immigration to the western countries. This is why in the long run the West is doomed.

  10. Is it better when the right to own property (including the property of your own person and your own labor) is widespread, or even universal? Of course it is, and the closer that societies come to that, the better life will be for a greater number of people. Just because no society perfectly achieves this does not invalidate the general principle. The US was far from perfect in its implementation of this principle. Latin America was considerably farther off the mark, though. It is fair to point this out, and to attribute this difference as being a key factor in the different economic performance of the two Americas.

  11. I would like to point out here that it is not so much the ownership of property that matters so much, but rather the possibilities and opportunities that can flow from that. In a predominantly agricultural society (as was the case in the 16th through 19th centuries), owning property meant that one could be one’s own boss (instead of being a tennant farmer or a hired hand or an indentured servant or a serf or a slave). As society became more industrialized and urbanized, the ownership of property became potential start-up capital that one could tap into so that one could form one’s own small business – again, so that one could be one’s own boss.

    This dream of becomming one’s boss – the American dream – is what motivated millions upon millions of people to not just work hard, but to risk their lives. That dream, and the possibility that it might actually be achieveable, was the real killer app.

    Is the dream still alive? Is it still possible?

  12. He’s the same crackpot who said Chimerica is the new dual country that cannot be separated because they both need each other. But then the 1mperia1ist 4merikkka starts to turn their crosshair to China because it is indirectly challenging its global hegemony and Ferguson says that irreversible bond is going to have a divorce. What it really means was his B$ theory was all wrong.

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