Is Land Reform Viable under Liberal Capitalism?


Before arguing on this issue, we have to draw our attention on what is land reform and what is liberal capitalism. Because, the definition of land reform, the approach and justification of land reform have proved to be a highly contested arena.

What is Land Reform?

 According to the conventional definition, redistributive land reform is a public policy that transfers property rights over large private landholdings to small farmers and landless farm workers (Griffin et al., 2002). Land is a valuable asset for an individual and a means of livelihood through the production and sale of crops and other products has been well researched. So, the equal distribution of land is necessary for a welfare state. As land reform determines the ceiling on holding of land by an individual, then a positive analysis can be given that it becomes the responsibility of the state to ensure justice to those landless people by distributing the land of wealthy owners.

Land reform also involves the changing of laws, regulations or customs regarding land ownership. It may consist of a government-initiated or government-backed property redistribution, generally of agricultural land or Khas land. Again, there should be ‘public purpose’ in case of acquisition and requisition by the government. It is needless to mention that distribution of land is one of the responsibility for a welfare state.

Approaches of Land Reform

 There are various approaches of land reform. It can be state-led approach, community based approach or market assisted approach. In the state-led approach, the state takes a deliberate policy to redistribute land. Community based approach of land reform is emerging as an alternative approach to state-led approach. In this approach, land ownership rights are transferred through the buying and selling of land on the market. The landless people or smallholders are financed to get land through buying land from the large farm owners. But generally, we see only the state-led approach of land reform is followed by most of the nations. By this it can be understood that the state has the authority and responsibility to reform land policies and distribute it among its citizens.

Liberal Capitalism and Land Reform

 It is the concept of decentralizing the money such that neither government nor public sector takes care of the economical transactions. This kind of economy  solely depends on individuals where individuals take major decisions and form the policies for their wellbeing. This kind of economic system is accepted where there are equal opportunities for every individual to grow and sustain in the society. But it leads to a lack of trust in government, zero economic growth, pay gap and economic inequality among individuals. So, if a state follows the principle of  liberal capitalism or market liberalization (open markets), the concept of government get narrowed down and it becomes powerless in various aspects of an individual’s life. Liberal capitalism focuses on economy of individual lines, meaning that the greatest possible number of economic decisions is made by individuals or households and not by collective institutions or organizations. So, there is a possibility that a person can build a mountain of property or land and the other person of a society may become landless under this system. If government cannot interfere in the property or land of the individuals, the equal distribution is not possible. Injustice exists in this system. In a capitalist society, simple possession of property is often not enough to guarantee property rights in perpetuity. Such private property, once recognized by law, must be either in continued use or is an improvement from state of nature. Homestead principle is one of the cornerstones of capitalist ethos, and it states that property rights are initially recognized for one who created something by combining labor, intellect, tools, and nature. That means under this system the person who is a handicapped, aged, illiterate, who doesn’t have tools, cannot have property rights. But the government is always bound to protect and provide the rights of its individuals if they confer the power to the government. So, land reform often brings incricate policy challenges under liberal capitalism.

Why the Reform is Challenging for the Governments

 As stated earlier that liberal capitalism focuses on the economy of individual lines and considers the interest of the individual not the community, there will be no public purpose under this system. It always facilitates the interest of the individual as it allows laissez faire. So, the policies and laws regarding land reform will be in favor of the interested group not the affected or landless people. It can be understood by analyzing what is the duty of a welfare state to ensure justice to all of its citizens by distributing and reforming the land and laws related to it which cannot comply under liberal capitalism. The following might help in this regard-

  1. The first and foremost duty of a government to make proper laws regarding the land. In this regard, international property law in protecting peoples’ rights shall be considered. It is a very emerging branch of International law. It is expected that in the upcoming days, International property law will be more effective in making the provisions of domestic laws more humane and people friendly.
  2. The governments always considers the public purpose in cases of acquisition and requisition by paying compensation to an individual.
  3. The governments always  focus on just provisions of law and ensure the legal rights for deprive poor or helpless people by making settlement of khas land.
  4. Government has the authority to take an initiative for codification of all the segmented laws into a single code.

From the above mentioned provisions it gets clear that the facility that is provided by the government does not remain effective under liberal capitalism. Again, such liberal system does not trust on government policy and focuses on individual interest. If the authority of the government is narrowed down under liberal capitalism, land reform cannot be made, equal distribution of property cannot be ensured, distributive justice will be a vizard and the concept of welfare state will be failed. On the other hand, the rich will become richer and the poor will become penniless under liberal capitalism. So, the  land reform as it stands will not be viable  under liberal capitalism.



Nazia Afroz Ananna, 3rd Year Student, Department of Law, Daffodil International University.

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