Do you know what mercedes means? Read on!
a synopsis of Robert V. Andelson and James M. Dawsey: From
Wasteland to Promised land:
Liberation Theology for a Post-Marxist World
The point of departure of
liberation theology is the recognition of the
awful fact that millions lead subhuman lives. The rural landless seek
refuge in cities, often becoming squatters in barrios or favelas with open sewage and no
safe water supply. They may earn fifteen dollars a month if they find
work at all. Children live in the streets and go to bed hungry. Illness
and drought, and even complaining of their lot, may lead to premature
death. And they can see the Mercedes behind the iron gates of walled
mansions. (Ironically, mercedes is
also a Spanish legal term denoting title to a large grant of land.)
Like poor Lazarus in the parable of Jesus (Luke 16:19-31), they survive
on the crumbs that fall from the rich man's table. When judgement comes
to the rich man, he receives no mercy because he had shown none.
today many practicing Roman Catholics approach carnival as a temporary relief
from suffering -- a reality that was present yesterday and will be here
tomorrow, always. In this sense, carnival
is escapism -- for a few days. Then real life continues. ...
The origins of this suffering are clearly to be found in the
aristocratic system imposed by papal bull and the armed might of Spain
and Portugal, a system that relegated the indigenous Indian population
to a life of slavery, at best. In Inter Caeteris, Pope Alexander VI
designated King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella "lords and masters" of the
New World. Thus were the treasure stores of gold and silver, and later
coffee and beef, thrown open -- to a well-defined elite.
The encomienda was the basic instrument used by the Spanish
empire for settling Latin America. This was a grant of Indians to an
encomendero who assumed the obligation, in principle, of Christianizing
and civilizing them. The Indians, "in exchange", were required to
provide labor and tribute to Spain. ...
However, religious works cannot avoid their political context
insight of the liberation theologians). Although in theory the encomienda was not a grant of
land, in practice many of the encomienderos
were also granted mercedes,
or legal title to vast tracts that gave rise to the late estates. After
the encomienda system was
abolished, this control of land allowed the economic exploitation of
the natives to continue.
Two types of large landed estates
survive to this day from the colonial period:
- the hacienda (or
fazenda, in Portuguese),
cattle and a diversity of crops for local use or sale; and
- the plantation, raising a single exportable crop.
Initially, Indians were given as
slaves to the landholders. Later, the "freed" natives were tied to the
landowners through debts brought on by a subsistence wage system. The
shortage of good land off the estate made it easy for the landlord to
attract or coerce labor onto his estate.
This pattern continues today with an
underclass largely descended from the Indian and African slaves, along
with other dispossessed groups. The haciendas and plantations are noted
for their inefficient husbandry. Landowners face few social or economic
pressures to become good managers, and often live in the cities leaving
the estates to be run by overseers. Consequently, the landowners
often do not make large profits, but that is not their objective. Their primary concern is the
maintenance of the two paramount features of the status quo, which go
hand in hand.
- First, labor is very cheap, because workers have no
place to employ themselves, even though massive tracts of good land are
held nearly idle by the land barons.
- Second, the cost of holding on to huge estates -- i.e.,
charged by the public for the privilege of retaining possession -- are
low or effectively nonexistent.
Strong incentives for good
stewardship are as absent as the landlords.
There is also little incentive to
productivity; most of the population has no share in the fruits of the
land or the profits of the estates. ...
Indeed, the primary purpose of holding
vast amounts of land, as Andre Gunder Frank writes in On Capitalist
Underdevelopment, "is not to
use it but to prevent its use by others. These others, denied access to
the primary resource, necessarily fall under the domination of the few
who do control it. And then they are exploited in all conceivable ways,
typically through low wages." ...
Effective land reform in Latin
America, as elsewhere, has scarcely taken place.
- One of the major
that many governments are run or controlled by a powerful elite that
owns the most valuable land, and often retards and corrupts the reform
- Foreign enterprises also fight the reforms by threatening
withdraw their investments.
- They are aided by fiscally conservative politicians who
that stability is necessary for economic development, even at the
expense of ignoring the exploitation of the poor, who are poorly
represented in the political process.
- And the few that have been enacted have been plagued by a
problems, and often merely reposition the former landowners, thanks to
compensation for expropriated lands, as the new monopolists of trade
and money lending, able to renew their exploitation of the poor.
to their religious heritage
for answers to severe injustice and suffering due to land monopoly
seems natural to liberation theologians and their followers. In the
Bible, the Promised Land is characterized by the "eminent domain" of
God. The abundance of the land comes with the recognition that the
earth is the Lord's. Otherwise, we continue in the Wasteland.
To recognize that "the earth is the Lord's" is to see that the
same God who established communities has also in his providence
ordained for them, through the land itself, a just source of revenue.
Yet, in the Wasteland in which we live, this revenue goes mainly into
the pockets of monopolists, while communities meet their needs by
extorting individuals the fruits of their honest toil. If ever there
were any doubt that structural sin exists, our present system of
taxation is the proof. Everywhere we see governments penalizing
individuals for their industry and creativity, while the socially
produced value of land is reaped by speculators in exact proportion to
the land which they withhold. The greater the Wasteland, the greater
the reward. Does this comport with any divine plan, or notion of
justice and human rights? Or does it not, rather, perpetuate the
Wasteland and prevent the realization of the Promised Land?
This not meant to suggest that land monopolists and speculators
have a corner on acquisitiveness or the "profit motive," which is a
well-nigh universal fact of human nature. As a group, they are no more
sinful than are people at large, except to the degree that they
knowingly obstruct reforms aimed at removing the basis of exploitation.
Many abide by the dictum: "If one has to live under a corrupt system,
it is better to be a beneficiary than a victim of it."
But they do not have to live under a corrupt system; no one
does. The profit motive can be channeled in ways that are socially
desirable as well as in ways that are socially destructive. Let us give
testimony to our faith that the earth is the Lord's by building a
social order in which there are no victims. Read the whole synopsis
James Kiefer: James Huntington and
the ideas of Henry George
Henry George, author of Progress and Poverty,
argued that, while some forms of wealth are produced by human activity,
and are rightly the property of the producers (or those who have obtained
them from the previous owners by voluntary gift or exchange), land and
natural resources are bestowed by God on the human race, and that every
one of the N inhabitants of the earth has a claim to 1/Nth of the coal
beds, 1/Nth of the oil wells, 1/Nth of the mines, and 1/Nth of the fertile
soil. God wills a society where everyone may sit in peace under his own
vine and his own fig tree.
The Law of Moses undertook to implement this by making the ownership of
land hereditary, with a man's land divided among his sons (or, in the absence
of sons, his daughters), and prohibiting the permanent sale of land. (See
Leviticus 25:13-17,23.) The most a man might do with his land is sell the
use of it until the next Jubilee year, an amnesty declared once every fifty
years, when all debts were cancelled and all land returned to its hereditary
Henry George's proposed implementation is to tax all land at about 99.99%
of its rental value, leaving the owner of record enough to cover his bookkeeping
expenses. The resulting revenues would be divided equally among the natural
owners of the land, viz. the people of the country, with everyone receiving
a dividend check regularly for the use of his share of the earth (here
I am anticipating what I think George would have suggested if he had written
in the 1990's rather than the 1870's).
This procedure would have the effect of making the sale price of a piece
of land, not including the price of buildings and other improvements on
it, practically zero. The cost of being a landholder would be, not the
original sale price, but the tax, equivalent to rent. A man who chose to
hold his "fair share," or 1/Nth of all the land, would pay a
land tax about equal to his dividend check, and so would break even. By
1/Nth of the land is meant land with a value equal to 1/Nth of the value
of all the land in the country.
Naturally, an acre in the business district of a great city would be worth
as much as many square miles in the open country. Some would prefer to
hold more than one N'th of the land and pay for the privilege. Some would
prefer to hold less land, or no land at all, and get a small annual check
representing the dividend on their inheritance from their father Adam.
Note that, at least for the able-bodied, this solves the problem of poverty
at a stroke. If the total land and total labor of the world are enough
to feed and clothe the existing population, then 1/Nth of the land and
1/Nth of the labor are enough to feed and clothe 1/Nth of the population.
A family of 4 occupying 4/Nths of the land (which is what their dividend
checks will enable them to pay the tax on) will find that their labor applied
to that land is enough to enable them to feed and clothe themselves. Of
course, they may prefer to apply their labor elsewhere more profitably,
but the situation from which we start is one in which everyone has his
own plot of ground from which to wrest a living by the strength of his
own back, and any deviation from this is the result of voluntary exchanges
agreed to by the parties directly involved, who judge themselves to be
better off as the result of the exchanges.
Some readers may think this a very radical proposal. In fact, it is extremely
conservative, in the sense of being in agreement with historic ideas about
land ownership as opposed to ownership of, say, tools or vehicles or gold
or domestic animals or other movables. The laws of English-speaking countries
uniformly distinguish between real property (land) and personal property
(everything else). In this context, "real" is not the opposite
of "imaginary." It is a form of the word "royal," and
means that the ultimate owner of the land is the king, as symbol of the
people. Note that English-derived law does not recognize "landowners." The
term is "landholders." The concept of eminent domain is that
the landholder may be forced to surrender his landholdings to the government
for a public purpose. Historically, eminent domain does not apply to property
other than land, although complications arise when there are buildings
on the land that is being seized.
I will mention in passing that the proposals of Henry George have attracted
support from persons as diverse as Felix Morley, Aldous
Huxley, Woodrow Wilson, Helen Keller, Winston
Churchill, Leo Tolstoy, William
F Buckley Jr, and Sun Yat-sen. To the Five Nobel Prizes authorized
by Alfred Nobel himself there has been added a sixth, in Economics, and
the Henry George Foundation claims eight
of the Economics Laureates as supporters, in whole or in part, of the
proposals of Henry George (Paul Samuelson, 1970; Milton
Friedman, 1976; Herbert A Simon, 1978; James Tobin, 1981; Franco Modigliani,
1985; James M Buchanan, 1986; Robert M Solow, 1987; William
S Vickrey, 1996).
The immediate concrete proposal favored by most Georgists today is that
cities shall tax land within their boundaries at a higher rate than they
tax buildings and other improvements on the land. (In case anyone is about
to ask, "How can we possibly distinguish between the value of the
land and the value of the buildings on it?" let me assure you that
real estate assessors do it all the time. It is standard practice to make
the two assessments separately, and a parcel of land in the business district
of a large city very often has a different owner from the building on it.)
Many cities have moved to a system of taxing land more heavily than improvements,
and most have been pleased with the results, finding that landholders are
more likely to use their land productively -- to their own benefit and
that of the public -- if their taxes do not automatically go up when they
improve their land by constructing or maintaining buildings on it.
An advantage of this proposal in the eyes of many is that it is a Fabian
proposal, "evolution, not revolution," that it is incremental
and reversible. If a city or other jurisdiction does not like the results
of a two-level tax system, it can repeal the arrangement or reduce the
difference in levels with no great upheaval. It is not like some other
proposals of the form, "Distribute all wealth justly, and make me
absolute dictator of the world so that I can supervise the distribution,
and if it doesn't work, I promise to resign." The problem is that
absolute dictators seldom resign. ... read
the whole article
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the earth is the Lord's,
God's eldest sons,
as God's provisioning,
as God's provisioning,
for the landless,
a society with no victims,
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