Land Law and the Constitution
in a Civilized Society
[A paper presented before a Congress of the Russian
Duma, Moscow, April 1996]
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Sir Kenneth Jupp joined the Army as a field gunner and was awarded
the Military Cross (1943). From 1958-1975 as Queen's Counsel he
appeared in Parliament to advise MPs on Private Bills. In 1975 he
was appointed a Judge of the Engtish High Court. He retired in 1990.
THE COMMUNIST experiment has left Russia with one priceless
inheritance. You own your Motherland - - every hectare
of it. This is unique in the Western world. In no other country is the
land owned by the state except in England, where the Crown is
theoretically the legal owner of all the land. However, "free-holders"
from the Crown, having over the centuries ceased to pay rent to the
government, now buy and sell the future rental income from the land as
if they were owners.
In Russia the land is state-owned by law, implying a duty on the
government to administer the land for the benefit of the whole people.
If a land code is adopted which ensures that the government honours
this sacred trust, Russia will have an advantage over other countries
in both economic justice and economic power. This is a tremendous
challenge. How to share out the land?
Men of genius -- religious leaders, philosophers and statesmen --
have for millennia recognized that a nation's land is the birthright
of everyone in the community, and that each individual should enjoy an
equal share in the benefits. But attempts to bring this about have
always come to nothing. Throughout world history constitutions have
abolished slavery, and secured political freedom. But one essential
freedom is still lacking -- the freedom, for every individual, to have
access to land to live on, and land to work on. What is the result?
Even in the richest Western nations there are beggars in the streets.
Why? Because the land is closed to them unless they can buy it. There
is plenty of land. But the best of it is privately owned, and can be
kept out of use for decades while owners seek the price they want.
Those who do not have the means to buy are then dependant on public
'welfare', the expense of which is crippling the Western nations.
The difficulty is that land cannot, except in primitive societies, be
divided up into shares of equal value. But in advanced societies that
is not a problem, because land-rent can be divided up. Sharing
land-rent, which is the natural revenue of the state, has been
canvassed among serious writers for some time. In Russia Tolstoy urged
it upon the Tsar. And land-rent paid to the government as public
revenue makes it possible to ease the crushing burden of taxation.
The Land Code in its present form merely cuts up the land. Those
lucky enough to get a bit of it to buy and sell will trade that land
for its rent, and some of them will get rich. Everybody else will be
robbed of his or her share of the inheritance, and will probably
remain poor. This is a constitutional problem which has not been
solved in the modern world. Take England. There was a tremendous land
hunger in the 16th century under the Tudor monarchs: population 3 to 4
million. There is a land hunger now: population 50 to 60 million.
There are beggars in some of our city streets now. The roads of Tudor
England swarmed with beggars. To deal with them the Tudor parliaments
passed laws which resulted in the Poor Law Acts from which evolved the
Welfare State of to-day -- a bandage on the wound of poverty, which
does nothing to cure the wound.
It is not much comfort that the Land Code proposes a tax on land. The
fatal flaw is that it sanctions private ownership of the capitalised
rent (the "buying price" of land), and the right to buy and
sell land. This means that you are prepared to go the Western way,
with millions of Russians unemployed who will have to live in
degrading dependence on state welfare. Is this what you intend? It is
certainly what the Land Code hi its present form will bring about: and
the Motherland will cry once again for the children it will be
prevented from feeding.
Your lawyers should not rush. To judge whether the Land Code meets
the needs of the people, and safeguards their precious heritage, you
should ask for answers to these questions:
- Will the benefits from buying and selling land be enjoyed by
everybody in Russia?
- Will these benefits be available for future generations?
- Will land be available for any individual who is willing to pay
the government rent equalling the current annual value of the
- Will land continue to be available on these terms for future
- Will future citizens share the benefit of any natural
resources such as coal, oil, precious metals, industrial diamonds
etc. which may be discovered after the land is privatised? Will
other materials which scientific discovery may unexpectedly make
valuable still belong equally to everyone? Yesterdays barren
desert land can become to-days rich oilfield.
- After the use of the land is changed through planning
permission, for example from agricultural to housing, or for
building a factory, will the resulting increase in value be shared
The present draft of the Land Code fails these tests. It will
throw the Motherland to the jackals. It should not be rushed through
the Duma. Get it wrong and you take Russia into all the troubles now
facing nations in the West. Get it right and you give an example of
good government to the whole world.
This is the philosophy behind these questions:
The land is the inheritance of its people. This inheritance must be
preserved all generations to come.
- The government must provide a practical mechanism for
expressing this: otherwise freedom is a meaningless concept.
- Every individual must have land to live on and work on.
Without land we die, or are enslaved to the will of others dies.
- Individuals need possession of land, not ownership of the rent
of land. The law must guarantee secure possession to every
land-holder, and protect him against any interference with his use
of the land he holds. Interference by government, or its
bureaucracy, should be subjected to severe legal penalties.
- Everyone should pay for the benefits he receives. In terms of
land, he should pay the true rental value of the land. Values of
rural hind rise according to fertility, and the availability of
minerals, neither of which is man-made.
- The surrounding community adds value to land, making it
suitable for houses, or shops, or offices. Those who possess land
should pay for the value the community creates.
- If all pay rent appropriate to the location of the land, and
its command of natural resources, then competition in the market
will be fair. No-one will have any advantage over anyone else save
such as is given by his skill and intelligence; and each will
obtain what he fairly earns.
The rights to the -wealth created by the individual should be
- Improvements made in and on the land by a person's labour and
the investment of his savings (capital) belongs to that person,
and the law must protect the owner's right to use and to sell the
improvments when he gives up his land.
- With the inflow of land-rent to the government, there should
be a corresponding reduction in the tax burden on incomes people
The Russian people can learn one salutary lesson from the former
aristocracy on whom they turned the tables in 1917. A clever landlord
never sells land. He always lets his land to maximize revenue; and
always provides for rent reviews at frequent intervals. This is the
secret of a prosperous and fair society -- but only if the rent is
shared equally among all citizens.