Friday, August 14, 2015

de Soto

Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto estimates that 'the total value of real estate held but not legally owned by the poor of the Third World and former communist nations is at least $39 trillion' (de Soto 2000 :32). de Soto's solution is to monetize these holdings by introducing the formal machinery of laws to recognize them as property, such that they can then be mortgaged and the loans used to create new enterprises. The difference between monetizable and what de Soto calls 'dead capital' is that the capital that can be monetized is alienable: transferrable, mobile, liquid, and so also transformable. de Soto argues that were we to count in this 'dead capital, the world's poor would actually own the majority of the world's wealth. Against de Soto, Mike Davis (2006: 79-82) argues that land titles benefit only the better off, invariably driving the poor off their land (in much the same way that selling council houses to tenants resulted in rapid gentrification in the UK of the 1980s, and a housing crisis still in full flood thirty years later). A critique based in Rancière would argue that the forms in which the poor hold land, such as indigenous stewardship, constitute a counted but excluded quantity: a part of no part, and that the genuinely political act would be to confront existing property laws with the radical alternatives practiced by the poor. The political principle is therefore not to bring new areas in under the existing partition of social goods, which is in effect to colonize them, but instead to confront wage-labor and property with alternative practices of unpaid work and unregistered landholding. The risk is that the poor's land will be taken from them: the certainty is that it will be devalued and exploited in the interests of those who pay the wages and issue the mortgages.

de Soto, Hernando (2000). The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else. London: Black Swan
Davis, Mike (2006). Planet of Slums. London: Verso.