George Monbiot on the role of Land, Public Luxury and Private Sufficiency in the Transition

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"Monbiot argues that we have to address fundamental unfairness in land access or we will remain unable to address our shared social crises, economic crises, and ecological crises. Land ownership is key to determining who has power. That power is best delegated to local community control rather than to the market. A new narrative will place land in regional Commons where it can be allocated equitably. Private Sufficiency and security can then be achieved alongside a Public Luxury of vast parks and open spaces, public transportation systems, public recreation facilities, public museums and cultural centers, and public gathering places."


"George Monbiot delivered the 40th Annual E. F. Schumacher Lecture on October 25th. Titled Private Sufficiency, Public Luxury: Land is the Key to the Transformation of Society, the talk was followed by a question period hosted by Jodie Evans and joined by Greg Watson.

In his talk, Monbiot pointed to the dominant narrative about land, which assumes private ownership and control of land may be secured by purchase and that there is no limit to the amount of land so held. However, the purchase of land in the pursuit of private luxury means excluding use by others for basic sufficiency. There is simply not enough land to allocate a surplus for all.

Greg Watson’s first question to Monbiot was to ask, "how are we to change that narrative?" Monbiot was grateful for the question, saying that narrative is at the heart of all political change, but is often ignored. He pointed specifically to the power of the Restoration Narrative.

In its simplest form the Restoration Narrative describes how dark and nefarious forces wreak havoc in society and a hero emerges to restore order and light. That hero may be an individual, a group of individuals, a community, or even a country. But the important thing is that those that hear the narrative identify with the hero and see a path forward. It is the story of the Bible, of Harry Potter, of the Narnia stories, and of the Lord of the Rings. An old story and a new one as well. In economics, the Restoration Narrative was used by both John Maynard Keynes to promote state intervention in monetary policy to regulate the amount of money in circulation and then later by F. A. Hayek who argued that the money supply should be regulated by the market itself.

The 2008 financial collapse, Monbiot contends, proved the undoing of a Hayek free-market narrative – but no new narrative emerged to take its place. In such a vacuum demagogues arose, creating divisiveness, unraveling social norms, widening inequities, and further degrading the environment.

What is the new narrative called for in this moment? "