Sunday, July 17, 2005

Property Accumulation

The sage worlds of my man Meth, "Ain't nothin move but da money," applies to the consolidation of property rights and rent collecting capability of corporations. The Wall Street Journal noted that the globalization of real-estate markets has remained a strong market for corporate investments. According to Ryan Chittum, "investors are diversifying the geographic concentration of their real estate portfolios." In fact this doesn't sound all that different from a colonial logic of expansion. As more countries pass legislation that opens real estate markets to foreign owners to welcome precious corporate investment, the ownership of land and the distribution of property rights becomes more concentrated in the hands and interests of the few.

As the gap between rich and poor accelerates, fewer people can afford to own land. This means that the wealth created by the ownership of the property rights does not stay where the property is but where the owner's bank account is. This will ensure that future wealth produced on that land will not belong to the region but to the owners of said property. The national accounts for economic activity will register the productivity but the actual profit of the property will reside elsewhere. This will create greater mystery about how economic projects will benefit localities; that is to say a false picture of wealth creation for regions with high foreign property owners will likely deceive its residents with high performance.

I am also concerned about the implications that this trend has for the future troubles created by global climate change. When climates change and local conditions become more uncertain, the diversification of real estate portfolios will put corporate capital at a better position to adapt to these changes. Meanwhile the majority of landless people on the planet will increasingly have to comply with the conditions set by corporate property owners. This trend demonstrates a slipping grip of the sovereignty of nation-states. Society will increasingly rely upon the capital networks, security, and deals that corporations are willing to make to the public (at decent profit, no doubt). With increased climate change there maybe increased demands for environmental services such as plant relocation, flood and landslide prevention, drought relief, security from hurricanes, and creating fresh water. Corporations will be in a good position to capitalize on these demands. Doing so will allow corporate interest to set the conditions for compensation and do so while holding our health, safety, and security out in front of us like a carrot for a hungery pack animal.
As this graph from the Global Footprint Network demonstrates, we have been above the Earth's carrying capacity for some time. We are essentially living upon borrowed ecological capital from future generations. The consolidation of property rights under the globalization of real estate makes the management of land a less democratic process and puts land management decisions in the hands of people that are most insulated from the negative effects of global climate change. The people most likely to be negatively impacted by global climate change are those with the least resources to cope with the process of adaptation; the poor, undocumented, and dispossesed. That is mostly people of color. The corporate consolidation of property rights around the globe is an environmental justice issue now that can be discouraged by striking down legislation that de-regulates the sale of property rights to foreign corporate bodies. Instead, redistributing property rights to domestic workers and connecting thier economic well-being to the maintanence of the value of the property rights would not only establish localized management of land but also make those workers less susceptable to the negative changes of climate change by lifting them out of poverty.


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