Unequal access to land and the current migration crisis
- Publication Type:
- Journal Article
- Land Use Policy, 2017, 62 pp. 159 - 171
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© 2016 Elsevier Ltd How does the crisis of migration relate to unequal access to land? In what ways can unequal access to land help to explain the migration crisis today? And, how does a focus on land differ from and is superior to existing mainstream analyses and hence extend our understanding of the crisis of migration? Based on comments made by Henry George in Social Problems (1883) and a methodology he espoused in The Science of Political Economy (1898), I argue that much of the crisis of migration can be understood as driven or accentuated by the crisis of land, to wit, inequality, poverty, and other social problems arising from unequal access to land. The role of land in the story of migration varies over time and this temporal feature influences the direction or spatial aspect of migration. The argument is not that all migration in all its complexities arise from unequal access to land but that the myriad of social problems and policies driving the mass migration of people cannot be satisfactorily resolved or fully understood without addressing the class-based land question. If so, mere pro-migration policy − whether it is of the neoliberal or humanistic hue − is not a panacea, especially when the destination settlements have similarly monopolistic land ownership structures. The conservative, nationalist, and nativist − linked to Garrett Hardin's ideas in the ‘tragedy of the commons’ (1968) and ‘lifeboat ethics: the case against helping the poor’ (1974) stance is worse because erecting borders is another form of monopolising the commons and land and hence is likely to intensify the inequality and social problems that underpin the global migration crisis. Creating equal access to land in both origin and destination settlements, granting social protection to migrants, especially those in work relations, and granting permanent status to migrants, while providing them and locals with excellent public services and enabling them to contribute to the common wealth in the destination settlement would constitute a much better approach to addressing the migration crisis. This Georgist approach, focusing on the class and the resulting social problems engendered by unequal access to land at different scales in the migration process is more holistic, distinct from and superior to the mainstream approach centred on dysfunctional states, the erection of borders, individual self-interest in driving the migration process, the commodification of labour without social protection, and economic growth without structural redistribution.
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