1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 16, 2015
As a Geoist, I would like to have seen a stronger statement on what can be done to correct today's backward state of affairs. But it's a trivial complaint, since it can be inferred from the thesis that bears itself out over the course of 400 meticulously researched pages covering about 1,000 years of human history: Economic efficiency and democracy in a society are positively correlated with how universally its land is owned.
(For any little McCarthy's out there: "The State," of course, should be counted as one person, not all of them.)
As the author states in his Epilogue, many attempts at a world view of history see an industrial economy as the foundation of democracy. Not only is this logically flawed in its ignorance of pre-industrial democracy, but it places a dangerous emphasis on material prosperity and growth in a world of finite resources. The dangers of this view are no clearer than in America's history of nation building, which Linklater also addresses. The land-reform-based efforts of Wolf Ladejinsky in Japan, Taiwan and South Korea after World War II were resounding successes; pretty much everything since then, after the influences of the Red Scare and Walt Rostow's far more plutocratic approach emphasizing industrialization over all else, has been a disaster.
Land is the source of everything. Knowing the history of its use yields the clearest understanding of human history, and that is what Linklater provides here. I recommend this to anyone who cares about the well-being of, well, anything.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 10, 2015
As someone who lectures on economic history and political economy, I find Andro Linklater's book to provide a provocative perspective on the reasons why some societies prosper while other do not. His main thesis is that the privatization of the planet has causes both progress and poverty. Efficiency in production (particularly agricultural production) occurs with privatization, but in the process social relationships are destroyed. Secondarily, he demonstrates by examples throughout history and our contemporary experience that societies can develop a private property based economy without movement to democracy.
I have prepared paper reviewing the book in detail and presenting my own perspectives on where the author's analysis fails in his exploration into the history of how nature came to be treated as private property and how we could solve the problems created thereby. The paper is available in the online library of the School of Cooperative Individualism:
18 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on January 15, 2014
When I first saw this work's title, I thought it might be a challenge to some of the libertarian beliefs I've adopted over the last several years in an attempt to educate myself about economics. Ever aware of confirmation bias, I looked forward to reading something that would make me aware of something I'd overlooked and give me reason to doubt my beliefs and make me more informed about economics. However, I was rather disappointed because I found that the author seemed to unwittingly undermine his own thesis.
The book starts out talking about how our system of privately owning land is contrary to the practice of all human societies. Fair enough. He seems to be setting out to argue that private property, a fundamental precept of free-market economics, is unnatural, contrary to human nature, and ultimately bad for communities. But the rest of the narrative is an illustration of how individuals actually used government to gain privileges for themselves to the detriment of others. Without accounting for the change in attitude toward private ownership of land, the author starts out discussing the enclosure laws that so transformed English society in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. While this is no doubt true, and the author does a fairly good job of showing the tremendous social displacements that occurred as a result of the laws, it actually happened as a result of politicians using their influence to impose their policies on the people. Thus, it was not a result of the free market. And so it goes, on and on, with example after example of individuals using political connections for private gain.
The weakest part of the book, and the part I thought would present the most formidable challenges to my personal beliefs, came toward the end when the author discusses Austrian economics. The author refers to the period that included Reagan and Thatcher the great Austrian experiment. However, the people I've learned about Austrian economics from do not consider the Reagan years to be those of a free market. For example, Reagan's former budget director David Stockman recently published his book "The Great Deformation" in which he comes down hard on Reagan and others around him for betraying free-market principles. Stockman(and others) characterizes our system as one of crony capitalism. In addition, I just happen to be reading right now "The Free Market Reader," edited by Llewellyn Rockwell, Jr., which was published in 1988. In his introduction, Rockwell says, "...almost every economic statement from the Reagan administration has been a lie. We...got the most protectionist eight years since Herbert Hoover, and the called it free trade. We got five tax increases, including the single largest in human history, and they called it lower taxes. We got the biggest deficits ever, and they called it fiscal conservatism. We got a doubled federal budget, and they called in cutting back." Thus, the author of "Owning the Earth" sets up a straw man when he attributes the failed policies of the Reagan years to Austrian economics. True Austrian economists (or others who come from a free-market perspective) do not characterize the Reagan years as ones of free-market capitalism.
In addition, while I don't consider myself an expert on Austrian economics, one thing I do know that Austrian economists are very critical of is the practice of central banking and fractional reserve banking. As long as you have those two, you can't talk about a free market. Linklater seems entirely ignorant of what Austrian economics really says but takes the word of those, like Alan Greenspan, who claimed to be proponents of the free market but in reality were ready to tinker with the market as much as any Keynesian. Thus, when Linklater claims, on p. 364, that the "Austrian experiment had failed," it is hard for me to take him seriously since no true Austrian experiment had actually ever been tried. Perhaps the depth of Linklater's grasp of economics is best reflected in his statement that then Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke was the "twenty-first century's acknowledged expert on the depression" (of the 1930s). Few Austrian economists would think of Bernanke as an expert since he has said things that contradict empirical evidence.
I would like to add that, while Austrian economics makes the most sense to me, I don't harbor the zeal for it that many of its proponents seem to feel. I do believe that what we have is far from a free market and that a true free market would ultimately be better for society, I'm not absolutely certain that it would. And given human nature, I don't think it would be long before less scrupulous people turned the system to their advantage at others' expense. That said, I do believe that it's a matter of intellectual integrity to present one's opponent's views honestly and criticize them on their own terms. This Linklater did not do, and for that, in my book, he deserves no more than two stars.