Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Lisa Byers And Thomas Paine

This blog has often pointed out fallacies, especially when used to justify various aspects of the CAOs. In the video associated with an earlier post, Lisa Byers says:
An early proponent of some of the early ideas around community land trusts in this country was Thomas Paine. He wrote, "Man did not make the earth, and though he had a natural right to occupy it, he had no right to locate his property in perpetuity on any part of it. It is the value of the improvement only, and not the earth itself, that is individual property.
As fallacies go, this one is a whopper. It's a whole bunch of fallacies actually, but it is mainly a fallacy of anachronism, where we judge one time period (the 18th century) by the standards of another (the 21st century). No, Thomas Paine was not predicting or advocating for community land trusts back in the 18th century.

The Byers quote attributed to Thomas Paine can be found in his essay Agrarian Justice, which is a continuation of Paine's earlier work, Rights of Man, in which he defended the French Revolution. In fact, Agrarian Justice was originally written in French, published in Paris, and specifically addressed "To the legislature and the Executive Directory of the French Republic."

When reading Paine's essay, we have to recognize that we are reading a social justice essay written at a time when there was no social justice. We are reading the thoughts and ideas of a man who grew up in feudal England, with its landless peasants and landed gentry. And the entire system was backed by a church that preached that God made the rich and the poor, and the rich nobility were ordained, by God, to be rich and powerful rulers over the poor in perpetuity. Paine grew up in a land where there were no property rights, unless you were the hereditary aristocracy.

Paine simply rejected that whole system and was encouraging the French to do the same. Paine believed that God ordained neither the rich nor the poor; God only made male and female (in Paine's words), and that every person should have a right to own land and its productive capacity. Paine was arguing for the American-style democratization of land in France, rather than common land per se. He said that Europe's pattern of feudal land ownership (i.e., the civilization of the day) had made the vast majority of its inhabitants miserable.
In taking the matter upon this ground, the first principle of civilization ought to have been, and ought still to be, that the condition of every person born into the world, after a state of civilization commences, ought not to be worse than if he had been born before that period.  But the fact is that the condition of millions, in every country in Europe, is far worse than if they had been born before civilization began, or had been born among the Indians of North America at the present day. I will show how this fact has happened.
And Paine was right. In Agrarian Justice, he proposed a new style of land ownership so that the productive capacity of land was put to use in ways that "civilized" European society never dreamed of. In so doing, Paine advance a specific idea that advocated the use of an estate tax and a tax on land values to fund a universal old-age and disability pension, as well as a fixed sum to be paid to all citizens upon reaching maturity.

If you take the time to read all of Agrarian Justice, you will realize that Paine was proposing a type of social security system for France that had the benefit of providing young people with seed capital and the elderly with a form of social security. It was groundbreaking stuff, not for its foresight into community land trusts, but for its foresight into conceptualizing a national plan for social security. For that reason, you can even find Agrarian Justice cited on the webpage of our own Social Security Administration today. Paine felt social security was essential for an authentically civilized society:
It is a revolution in the state of civilization that will give perfection to the Revolution of France. Already the conviction that government by representation is the true system of government is spreading itself fast in the world. The reasonableness of it can be seen by all. The justness of it makes itself felt even by its opposers. But when a system of  civilization, growing out of that system of government, shall be so organized that not a man or woman born in the Republic but shall inherit some means of beginning the world, and see before them the certainty of escaping the miseries that under other governments accompany old age, the Revolution of France will have an advocate and an ally in the heart of all nations.
I do not believe Paine would support any current concept of common ownership rights in the private property of others. And I certainly do not believe that Paine was advocating for all land to be owned by grant-funded non-profit 501(c)(3) corporations rather than individuals.


  1. Bravo. Trojan Heron does it again. The quality of writing here contrasts with the mealy mouthed thought terminating editorial in the current Journal of the San Juans, where that paper amply demonstrates that it is no longer a community newspaper but just a puppet on a string.

    And here's a clue: Thomas Paine's famous pamphlet "Common Sense" was published anonymously, well over 100,000 printed and distributed. And yet the Journal joins the corrupt Network buying this election calling out for names. But the current political climate calls for truth-telling to power and, like Thomas Paine before us, often one needs to take care to expose themselves to retribution. The Journal editors would be well advised to reflect on the Supreme Court's famous protections of "The Lonely Pamphleteer."

    It absolutely matters less who says what than the power and truth to the words themselves. Thomas Pained proved that. Lisa Byers should acknowledge that. Here's lesson Sound Publishing can ponder going forward to the election.

  2. Query: did the Journal editors even watch the videos in question? Why are they described as "edited"? The video posted was not edited by anyone but the New Economics Institute; there were direct links to the source material. Moreover, it sounds as if there were a mass mailing of scurrilous material, whereas it was an e-mail from a realtor to a bunch of friends, ASKING A QUESTION. Sorry, but what's the problem with that in America? Should we make an appointment to meet the candidates in person to discuss this instead?

  3. Even worse: There was plenty of solid community dialog on the Journal online newsite for anyone to read from real people. These so-called Hate Speech rumors were being spread by a failed candidate who wears that Big Hair Helmet and seems to know Nothing Nothing Nothing, Nothing at all.

    At least has nothing to say, especially if the Journal will answer for them. Isn't that special?

    Again, plenty of community response, real people, real names, the Journal knows it and they ignore it. They are no more real journalists than the Machine are real Democrats.

    Normally, the brain freeze brought about by the Kivisto Blog and Sound Publishing in advance of every election doesn't kick in until fairly late in the campaign, otherwise the voters would figure out the game.

    Starting this early, just shows how desperate this angry little Machine is, how afraid of losing their grip.

    They better raise another $40,000 in a hurry.

  4. I still think we need to drive a truck around with 60" TV's on the side playing the video! Up and down, around and around until notice must be taken.

  5. That's really not Lisa talking

    Besides, she was quoted out of context

    Besides, it was edited

    Besides, she was giving a history lesson

    Besides she was back east at the time, gee whiz

    Besides, she was forced to be a board member against her will

    Besides, her viewpoints are much more nuanced

    Besides, the Journal said so

    Besides, don't you have something better to do?

    Besides, its really not your place to question

    Besides, look over there, oooohh bright and shiny!!

  6. As a TH reader, I am fairly unimpressed with the Thomas Paine story. I was hoping that the quote was somehow misquoted and had been mis worded. Sounds like it was referenced appropriately and the only real question is historical context. The problem with the criticism is that it is the root of every costitutional question - historical context.

    Any reference to our historical founding principles is either rooted in or disputed because of historical context and intent. As a constitutional junkie, I find it the most interesting piece of the discussion. So, while we may say the Lisa's reference to Paine is contextually inappropriate, i believe that the counter-argument has a similar amount of ammunition to say that the reference is appropriate given the philosophy of property rights for the time.

    In the end though, neither point goes to the discussion of basic governance - but instead is an academic discussion of historical evolution of the process of property ownership. It is an arguable point that neither the modernized system of private property ownership or the Land Trust model are historical appropriate for use in alanysis of what Paines overall view would be when applied to today.

  7. Abe Lincoln said something similar, and the point being raised by all who said something similar is that perpetual landed property is bad -- property like Downton Abbey that is kept in a family forever -- the problem with that practice in England/Europe was that it resulted in acres of unproductive land for the nation. The nation's productive capacity was reduced massively.

    In America, land was built around work. Even the utopian societies such as the Quakers or the Amana colonies built their societies around work, which happened to involve land, but which were not assembled just for the purpose of holding land for holding land's sake.

    The trouble with the Land/Housing Trust model is that it is styled more after the European model (holding land for land's sake in albeit non-profit perpetuity) than the American model of using land for work and those who work it. The trusts we have are not built around productive enterprise, but coalesce around acquiring and holding land for non-work. In short, that's just not the American way, historically speaking.

  8. Some other readers did their homework however, and went off to read what Paine said. I think what we have hear is context, this is what Lisa has asked for, so now we have it.

    This basic argument goes back through the ages. We are not the Creator. However, we Create. Thus we are endowed by the Creator. We can wrap our own ideas around that deep truth. We're just passing through, and can't take it with us. We did not make the land. We use the land. We are stewards of the land. And, the land is owned, as the ancients recognized because we forgive our trespassers.

    And here is the fallacy I am afraid the communitarian land trust cannot reconcile. Land will be owned. To imagine otherwise is magical thinking. As for example, OPAL is a private property owner. It is a private corporation. A corporate person however awful that sounds. I empathize but there it is.

    OPAL is not a natural person.

    The previous comment mentions Abraham Lincoln. And, like Lovel Pratt, I am also an admirer of the man. However I won't be voting for Lovel.

    Here's the full quote:

    “The land, the earth God gave man for his home, sustenance, and support, should never be the possession of any man, corporation, society, or unfriendly government, any more than the air or water.”

    Do you see the fallacy of OPAL and Lisa? Lincoln in his own way is restating the general sentiment of Paine and many others throughout history. Notably, Lincoln would not have land in the possession of any corporation.

    But OPAL is a corporation. That's the issue. Checkmate. It sounds nice but the economic power accrues to the land trust and those who govern it, just as to the estates of old. The land trust accumulates wealth on the back of renters/lease-holders.

    Lincoln makes a distinction of the "unfriendly government." Meaning, a friendly government is one of our own making and agreeable to us. But once again the land trusts do not make the case, for they are not public entities, they are private and corporate, nongovernmental.

    Clearly, many individuals involved in land trust governance all around San Juan County want very much to push communitarian philosophy into policies by commanding an electoral majority.

    I will just assert that as a given. We need to have this debate. Do not expect great things from the Journal of the San Juans.

  9. Ms. Crosby: Attack the messenger if you like, but the Byers video stands on its own. Maybe you saddled up the wrong horse. Is Lisa Byers a subscriber to the belief that no one should own and control land?

  10. Can the real Lisa Byers come out and play?

  11. With apologies to the no singing zone here, I couldn't help it, seemed so apropos somehow. Hope this isn't too long. Feel free to delete.

    "You may be a construction worker working on a home
    You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome
    You might own guns and you might even own tanks
    You might be somebody’s landlord, you might even own banks

    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
    You’re gonna have to serve somebody
    Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody"

  12. Inches of advertising sold = an endorsement from Sound Publishing. (And maybe an editorial or two.)

  13. Lisa, I would like to see the current financials of the Opal Corporation, and then I would like to see the total equity accumulated by the home owners.

  14. Wouldn't you think if Lisa had any guts she might come here and make a statement or comment or something?


  15. It's called stone walling.

  16. Agree with @9:05 PM

    Lisa will respond when she feels ready. She is talking things around with folks she knows right now.

    Perhaps I could raise the stakes a bit. I would like a unified pro-forma of all community land trusts, the San Juan Preservation Trust and the Land Bank. Total value of holdings, operations, lists of all staff and board over the past 10 years at least.

    Consider this a single enterprise under a networked leadership via interlocking boards that has just raised over $40,000 to command a council majority in close association with the Friends of the San Juans as evidenced by campaign committee members and major contributors.

    All the data is there, its in the public domain.

  17. Where is the justice in everybody else paying the property taxes on the Opal Corporations land?

  18. @11:06

    Let me first say that I am not a Lisa fan, but have not decided how to vote. But you are incorrect: OPAL does pay property taxes. The homeowners pay on the house, and OPAL pays on the land and developments. I was curious and called the assesor's office and they cconfirmed that fact.

    Where is the justice in me paying taxes, as an atheist, and the Catholic chuch not paying? Or the Baptist church?

  19. There was an earlier question I hope Lisa clears up when she gets around to it, on how much tax is paid. And a separate/related question about County policies that give land trust organizations substantial tax breaks if they choose to take them.

    Anyway one person came up with a figure of less than $100, another with several thousand a year, parcel numbers were posted here, OPAL has different holdings.

    So yes, OPAL pays taxes but ...

  20. Did you ask how much they paid per parcel,a break down of what they paid into and what they did not. There are many parcels.

  21. No, I didn't. I was merely told that OPAL pays full property tax on all properties.

    I also found out that they pay for all of their permit fees, but not land use fees, which are fo sub-division applications.

    I believe there is plenty to question about Lisa, but for me OPAL has served a good purpose. I know people who have lived at OPAL and have never heard a bad word about the organization.

  22. I was an OPAL resident, I support the organization, and I MOST DEFINITELY paid property taxes.

    You can dispise Lisa's social philosophies all you want, and can even take exception with the Land Trust model, but OPAL has been a benefit to our community and is run very well. Without OPAL, I would have moved away a long time ago.

  23. I like Lisa, and I know many other folks who have commented here do as well. Not really an issue, at least for me. I understand the project is well managed.

    However the communitarian philosophical basis of the CLT model needs to be understood because tens of thousands of dollars and a relentless campaign machine driven by that philosophy is moving forward very aggressively. Lisa is a willing participant in this.

    This campaign is certainly in part organized by current and past land trust leadership now seeking office as a solid voting bloc. Sorry but that does not pass the smell test. That is about power.

    I've had plenty of late night conversations over a bottle or two with close friends involved in these organizations over the past 20 years. I have to say, that by having a heart to heart, most people seem to understand the limitations of the CLT model, and that it is very weak response to huge market distortions caused by growth management compounded by the housing bubble itself. It seems to be a recognition that there needs to be housing for a small but essential working and servant class in the local economy. So that is the purpose served. Too expensive to commute on the ferry.

    And, many have been puzzled over the years by the criticism the Oakes gets while OPAL gets the praise. Are they not much the same? That just boils down to ideology. And we have laws allowing rural cluster housing in San Juan County. They don't all need to be communitarian nonprofit trusts to be affordable, do they? But other development plans just seem to die in the permit department over the years.

    I am glad the CLT model worked for you. Most of the folks I know have gone for the Homes for Islanders model of self help to secure real equity so they can build stake for their family and future.

    Those folks will be living here for a long time and will have assets to pass along to their children or the means to help finance a college education. I am sure Lisa's campaign will work hard to tell lots of success stories. I expect many residents of these projects to become active in the campaign going forward. It could be a bit awkward to decline.

    But I am glad it worked for you, its tough out there. Best of luck.

  24. And for the record-

    I sold my Opal home and received a modest rise in equity based upon the original purchase price. Not as much as I would have on the regular market, but I couldn't have bought anything on the regular market at the time.

    Situations change and people want options. OPAL doesn't exist because rich people want it to - it exists because those of us who need it ask it to.