Ownership is a fundamental assumption of our twenty-first century life.
Ownership is a mainstream part of our culture. The argument for home ownership is strong – think of the importance we place on security, family history and feelings of peace.
Ownership has been sold to us by successive governments and policies as the best way forward for individuals, a basic ingredient of family life, a yardstick for the health of the economy, the herald of flourishing cities, a solution for poverty and a key aspirational force. Ownership is celebrated for the control it gives people over their lives.
This blog aims to throw out questions about the value of ownership and ask, what are the alternative economic and social models? We’re not saying that it can be thoroughly discussed in a few sentences, nevertheless, C2C is compelled to ask the questions! Our aim is always to generate thinking and let others muse upon and discuss the issues, with the aim of stirring new thinking and perhaps more radical responses.
Why is ownership so persuasive and pervasive?
The argument for home ownership is strong because we have made it into a set of equations that say:
Home = peace
Home = status
Home = community
Even where there is a laissez faire attitude to the economics and status of ownership, there may still be the aspiration towards it.
What is bad about ownership?
Ownership represents a completely unbalanced and unfair economic world. Ownership is not sensible economics.
Ownership is a false dream. It says ‘If you achieve this, you will be able to do, be and have all these other things, too.’ It is a prosperity mantra that teaches us to aspire to be the ‘greater’ person rather than the ‘smaller’ one. Ownership is a false goal that exacerbates our disenfranchisement and perpetuates power structures.
Are there any alternative models?
If we question the process of getting more or getting sufficient as essential to living a full and fulfilled life, we are asking, what are the alternatives to relationships and societies based on economics and ownership?
We want people to feel hopeful about an alternative to the ownership principle. We believe that people want a vision of community – not with a massive theology in tow – but a vision of community that represents a form of security. What creates community is longevity of relationships, sustainability and the sharing of resources, as well as lots of laughter and happiness.
So one proposition that we would like to throw out is that community, not property, is key to peace and security. The community element is found not in the fact that a home is owned but that there is security, sustainability, longevity of relationships and shared resources in the home environment. This is a system that takes away economic pressures.
Once we get rid of ownership’s contingent problems of storing, grabbing and inequality we enter a different relational and communal space. Indicators of happiness are higher in simple communities than they are in societies where people have a high economic stake.
The Christian ethic of love: Self-sacrificing ‘giving living’
The Christian ethic is based on a God who created everything but who, in desire as well as reality, owns nothing. Is the pattern of creating and living that Christians accept a way of simply saying that ownership is overrated? Or does it say that ownership is wrong?
God is love and the nature of love is that you give it away. God has given the universe to mankind and He frees up the space without claim on it. In contrast, ownership stores, holds, accumulates and divides.
Bold corporate and civic decisions
The city of Berlin is a good example of the way in which different cultural forms co-exist – the city’s vibrant art scene works alongside more economically rooted forces and the former has not been squeezed out. Galleries, rental accommodation for visiting students, non-profit studios and self-funded spaces have been nurtured, meaning that the artistic community can afford to stay and grow there. In other cities, such as London, similar grass-roots communities have been overtaken by economics and gentrification.
In London, Southwark Council spent £6m on creating a park in middle of a gang-troubled area. That is a positive example of ownership by a civic group – ownership for the benefit of community.
‘Non-ownership thinking’ is often local thinking
Strong communities are always based on a shift in the balance of power from global to local. C2C believes that local conversations and solutions will transform lives. The local is a site for ‘non-ownership thinking’, but the more that globals and corporates take over small initiatives, the more we lose this ‘non-ownership thinking’ in local spaces.
We need to challenge the idea that the ownership of land exists for political or economic advantage, rather than for the long-term benefit of residents. Where we see shared partnerships that are creating places of civic connection – allotments and parks, for example – we see that communities are truly brought together. Council-owned land has a social heritage that in many cities is being lost so that capital gains can be made from the land.
Filling the ‘space’ taken by ownership
Without the structures of ownership we are freer to build other things. When power and dominion are taken away we start to see that everything else can be put into a different perspective. People can connect to a system in which money is not central and there is no status involved. Other things may be exchanged and other currencies used – for example, art and creativity or volunteer time – both of which build long-term sustainable communities.
Look out for more on this, and the example of Timebanks, in another blog.