Technology and the cost of access to land

A letter to the editor of the London Review of Books by Julian Pratt 18/05/17

Adrian Bowyer is to be congratulated on his invention of the self-replicating 3D printer RepRap, and also for the generosity of its open-source licensing, which tackles one of the chief blocks to universal access to production: the monopoly over intellectual property rights.RepRap

He is, though, too sanguine about the capacity of this technology to bring about a situation in which all a producer will have to pay is ‘the cost of access to an allotment’. As the current housing crisis shows, if all the land is owned by just some of the people, they will be in a position to charge as much rent as its users can pay. Ownership of land in perpetuity, without concomitant responsibilities and duties, is a state-created right. If inequality is to be reduced, this property-right must be transformed into a use-right, for which the steward of the land would pay rent to the community. Unless landowners were suddenly to start behaving with the same generosity as the open source movement, this would require political action not technological change.

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