Tuesday 8 February 2011

Should the UK sell its forests?

The UK government is planning to sell off UK forests. It is interesting to see this move as part of a broader trend in servitisation of the economy, for it has resonances with the way we think about education. Basically, the deal is to sell the land to private companies on condition that those companies maintain rights of access, ecology, and leisure facilities. In effect, it will turn those private companies into 'service organisations' who will provide access and ecological services for the benefit of the public. For now, there is no suggestion that those services will not be provided for free. The move has been prompted by criticism of the Forestry commission, which both regulates the care of forests and guards accessibility and sells the wood they contain.

Under the deal, private companies can expect to profit from the sale of wood, whilst potentially exploring ways of profiting from other diversified opportunities which might arise from owning the forest. But what's wrong with this?

I think this is a clear case of where the intrinsic value in a commodity passes to the few. The forestry commission may not terribly effective in managing forests, but it matters that our government owns it. It is an asset whose value lies in what it is, a value which can be passed from one generation to another, which can be maintained and kept by one generation for another. Collective ownership guards against commercial exploitation and slavery in the interests of a few. For it is the principle of good government that "government prevents injustice, other than that which it creates itself." If a government is unjust - or a government agency like the Forestry commission, the people can take it to task in a democracy.

If a company is unjust, it is more difficult for the people - consumers of services - to take it to task. Indeed, it can sometimes appear that the people can only take a service company to task by consuming more services (legal services, for example) which serve to amplify individual complaints to give them greater effect. (to what extent are all legal services 'complaint amplification services'?) Collective ownership on the other hand, means that collective political action (the realisation of the power of organised labour) can effect change without recourse to legal amplification services.

It may be that this is how things have to be. I think however, it is better to know this is how things are becuase only by understanding how things are might an effective way of dealing with the world in this new form be found.

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