Housing as a Human Right
The human right of housing is subverted by the right of speculation.
When speculation is unbridled, sharks are protected against the sardines.
This article by the Swiss emeritus professor Arnold Kunzli is translated from the German in: Neue Wege.
Housing as a Human Right
By Arnold Kunzli
[Arnold Kunzli's lecture "Housing as a Human Right" presented at the 1990 Bern peace week and broadcast later by radio DRS is translated by Marc Batko from the German in the Swiss Neue Wege 84, June 1990. The text shows that a right to housing also includes a right to land but that these two rights cannot be realized within existing property structures. Only a distribution of land ownership in a discretionary property of communes and a revenue property of individuals enables the human right to land and housing to be guaranteed to all people. As in his latest book "Rescue Freedom from its Protectors!", Professor Kunzli (Zurich) reveals in this lecture how little capitalism and human rights are compatible with one another.]
The Idea of Human Rights
The idea of human rights, as we understand it today, was conceived during that secular movement of emancipation called the age of the Enlightenment. It implies that certain innate, inalienable basic rights come to the person, to every person without exception, owing only to the fact that he or she was born as a person, independent of sex, age, intelligence, race and membership to a class, religion and nation, independent even from time and space. These rights have a pre-political or supra-political character and are valid absolutely and universally. Standing above the positive law, they cannot be balanced, decreed or abolished and form the substance of what is called human dignity.
- In the formulation of the 1776 American Declaration of Independence composed by Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all persons are created equal endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
- In the wording that the 1789 French revolution gave to human- and civic rights: "People are born and remain free and equal in rights. The ultimate object of all political association is the preservation of natural and unalterable human rights. These rights are freedom, property, security and resistance against oppression."
In these formulations the pre-political human rights serve as a legitimation and norm of political civic rights on which political democracy is built. Only a democracy can guarantee human rights since only it can fulfil the postulate of an equal freedom. Up to today people have focused almost exclusively on political democracy or democracy as a form of government. Nevertheless since human rights have an absolute and universal validity, they must also be respected by society and the economy.
This creates problems. The European Human Rights convention of 1950 first entered into effect a quarter of a century later in 1974. Switzerland and the United States have not signed up to today the first supplementary protocol that establishes a right to education or the fourth supplementary protocol awarding human rights to foreigners. Switzerland and the United States up to today also have not joined the 1966 Human Rights pacts of the U.N. The latter has especial significance for us here since this agreement establishes a "right to housing".
Housing as a Biological Necessity and Cultural Commission
Unlike the animals, the person is not equipped by nature with a biological climatic protection. A fish under a sheet of ice does not need an oven to survive in winter. Chamoises and ibexes in the most difficult food situations brave icy cold, winter storms and snow masses without the protection of any refuges. Nature simply made the person so that he needs protective warm clothing and a roof over his head, at least outside the Tropics, to survive amid natural changes of climate and seasons. Since the right to life is one of the human rights but life is not possible for humanity without shelter, the human right to life can only be guaranteed if the right to housing is proclaimed as a human right.
This could be a biological-existential justification of our postulate. Animals prompted by what we call instinct build habitations or the like. Birds build nests, the bees a bee-hive, the ants an ant-hill, foxes shelters, woodchucks dens, hedgehogs entrench themselves to hibernate and so forth. Nature has provided very well for snails and mussels whose habitation is quite simply biologically pre-programmed with their development. In contrast, the person through his poverty of instinct and his partially meager biological equipment has been condemned by nature to produce civilization to survive. For that purpose, nature outfitted the person with a disproportionately large brain which in an astonishing way grows and grows but unfortunately shows the unmistakable disadvantage of being used other than merely for creating civilization. But since nature has furnished the person with the ability for creating civilization to compensate for the instinct deficiency, it has also issued, so to speak, the commission to be culturally creative.
Referred to our housing problem, the naturally-given human right to housing is established biologically-existentially and also with this cultural commission. Since nature furnishes people with a sheer unlimited power in civilization, we may assume that it has empowered people to build as dwellings not merely wooden shacks through which the wind blows and into which it rains but to culturally and creatively organize his dwellings. When philosophical anthropology today says that the person is condemned by nature to civilization, this is also true for the housing culture. Wood-sheds could be constructed with less brain power. Isn't it daring to speak not only of a human right to housing but of a human right to a residential culture?
Housing as a Need for Identity and Home
In addition we people have problems with our identity due to the estrangement between spirit and nature. A dog does not ask who it actually is and how it is different from other dogs. However the person encounters identity problems with the question how he or she should dress. This is true far more with the question of forming and outfitting space in which one's private life is spent. Since the person is so made that spirit and nature are in conflict in him or her, can never be permanently reconciled - that would be redemption - and identity has to be constantly reassured in the course of development and since identity is a process, we could also speak of a naturally-given constraint of people to the permanent search and formation of identity. The dwelling is the place par excellence where this permanent identity process takes place. "Here I am a person; here I can be." Here I am "at home" or with myself. Being with myself means being identical with myself and finding one's - always relative and temporary - identity. Thus we need a dwelling not only for the sake of our biological defenselessness but also for the sake of the identity processes to which we are subjected by nature whether it suits us or not. The human right to housing is legitimated with this identity process willed by nature.
The list of possible legitimations of a human right to housing is not thereby exhausted. The dwelling is the original cell of the home or native country. By native country, I do not mean the nation that is an artificial structure, imparts a constructed We-feeling and, as we know, can develop into a powerful explosive force. By native country, I mean the close solidarity and familiarity with a little fragment of that world which denies a person anything greater than this feeling of security, a solidarity and intimate knowledge both with nature and with the culture into which one was born, with the landscape, climate, morals, customs, lifestyles and also with the neighboring persons surrounding us. The home as an oasis of meaning, as Peter Noll calls it, is an oasis of safety in the wilderness of a world in which we are cosmically unsheltered. Home is the place which absorbs our fear of the world and can communicate to us something of that feeling of happiness to which we have a human right according to the American Declaration of Independence: "the pursuit of happiness".
Seen this way, the need for a home seems to be an anthropological constant. The person is assigned to an especially long period of security - spatially as well as psychophysically - on account of his or her extra-uterine womb, in other words as one born much too early compared with the animals and on account of his or her long adolescence as a child. Thus we could speak of a naturally-given human right to a home or native country. If the original spatial cell of the native country is the dwelling, a human right to housing can be derived from this consideration. To be an adult person, a child and before the child's birth a mother needs a dwelling or - in primitive social forms - at least a housing substitute.
Housing Quality as a Quality of Life
Let me add a final reflection that is closely connected with the identity problem. The needs of people regarding hygiene, their threshold of shame, private spaces of freedom, comfort and quality of life changed enormously in the course of the process of western civilization. These are all needs that determine our claims to housing quality. These claims have been radicalized in the last decades through the rapid development of science and technology on one hand and - as a consequence of this uninhibited development - by the similarly fast deterioration of our existential environment and thus of a part of our quality of life on the other hand. In the larger cities, housing quality plays an ever-greater role in the framework of what we call quality of life. Here we can no longer unconditionally legitimate our needs and claims with natural-given realities. Wall sockets for cable television and instep carpets are not natural necessities.
Furthermore we find ourselves in a permanent process of social transformation in which housing and housing quality have increasing significance. The need for a positive identification with one's dwelling grows because of the reduction of working time and more flexible working hours, new structures of life time and working hours, modern communication technologies and because of the increasingly practical world of work which requires a sensual compensation and so forth. Simultaneously our quality of life is increasingly endangered by the consequences of this civilization process. The worse becomes the quality of the environment, the greater the importance of housing quality.
A certain democratization effect of environmental pollution - the air is miserable for all equally - is largely neutralized by the contrast of dreary living conditions on one hand and luxurious living conditions on the other hand. Moreover there is a social-ecological cumulative effect. Very often, most importantly in the larger cities, an especially bad quality of the environment and an especially bad housing quality coincide as in the tenement houses - nomen est omen - on busy radial routes. "People are born and remain free and equal in rights." The idea "tenement house" already implies a deficiency of freedom that intensifies the crass differences in housing- and environmental quality by a corresponding deficiency in equality.
The Housing Question as a System Question
Despite all middle-class faith-healing, our social reality still represents a class society. The human rights that do not know any class distinctions are violated by our social reality. Something fundamental must be said here about the history of human rights. Originally human rights were essentially conceived as rights of the individual over against the state. Today danger threatens human rights also from the society and in particular from an economy that is becoming increasingly powerful. Thus the human right to housing today comes to be a problem of our social- and economic system and is an indicator of its crisis.
Allow me a brief historical excursus. 118 years ago Friedrich Engels, Karl Marx's comrade of the way and the struggle, published a long series of articles in a Leipzig journal "On the Housing Question". There he wrote: "The so-called housing shortage which plays such a great role in the press today does not consist in the working class living in miserable, overcrowded and unhealthy dwellings. This housing shortage is not something peculiar to the present or even one of the sufferings peculiar to the modern proletariat... There is only one remedy for ending this housing shortage: removing the exploitation and oppression of the working class by the ruling class. What is understood today as a housing shortage is the peculiar aggravation which the miserable living conditions of workers have endured through the sudden congestion of the population in the large cities: a colossal increase of rental prices, an intensified crowding together of the inhabitants in individual houses and for some the impossibility of finding a place. This housing shortage is only emphasized so much because it is not confined to the working class but also affects the petty-bourgeoisie."
Engels made the mode of production responsible for this distress. The earth and land received "an artificial and often colossally increased value". The buildings on this land can be torn down and replaced by others. "The result is... that workers' residences and smaller dwellings become scarcer and more expensive and often are not even available because under these conditions the construction industry is offered a much greater field of speculation in expensive houses and the industry only builds worker dwellings by way of exception." Therefore the housing shortage is a necessary product of the middle class form of society "in which the house owner in his capacity as a capitalist has not only the right but owing to competition also to a certain extent the duty to ruthlessly wrangle the highest rental price out of his house property. In such a society the housing shortage is not an accident but a necessary institution. This shortage can only be removed together with its repercussions on health and so forth when the whole social order from which it rises is revolutionized from the foundation."
With a prophetic view to our contemporary ethics boom and its unending and inconsequential discussions on economic ethics, Engels insisted: "For whoever declares the capitalist mode of production, the `iron law' of present-day middle class society, to be unimpeachable and yet wants to abolish its displeasing but necessary consequences, nothing is left other than delivering moral sermons to the capitalists, moral preaching whose stirring effect is immediately dissolved into vapor by private interests and if need be by compassion."
Friedrich Engels was quoted in detail because his description of conditions a century ago along with evident differences reveals surprising agreements with our present situation proving that the housing question is actually a system question. Engels stressed that earth and land in the cities have an artificial, colossally increasing value. The housing question and thus the question of housing as a human right was largely a question of land a century ago in the capitalist economic system. Therefore it is important to consider the problem of a human right to housing under the aspect of a human right to land. A dwelling needs first of all a piece of land and this has its price.
The Land Belongs to All
If there is now a right of people born free and equal to land, then the land belongs to all and there cannot be private ownership of land allowing owners to exclude others from control over this land property. Immanuel Kant, regarded politically by liberals as one of their own, established this philosophically 200 years ago. In the "Prolegomena to Law", Kant wrote: "All people in so far as they are on earth at the same time must be in a collective-universal possession of the whole surface of the earth, in other words in a possession which rises out of the reconciled arbitrariness of everyone. Otherwise the arbitrariness of one would come into conflict with the arbitrariness of the others and one would take away the other's place. Consequently the disjunctive universal possession would be abolished contrary to the inborn right through this deficiency of unity." Regarding "... the inborn right", Kant bestows the dignity of a human right to the uncurtailed right of people to a "collective-universal possession of the whole surface of the earth." Thus private property in earth and land according to Kant, the great liberal, violates human rights.
Kant substantiates his rejection of a private property in earth and land with an original philosophical idea. Because of the "spherical surface" of the earth, that is on the basis of the fact that the earth is a sphere, "all inhabitants of the earth because they are set by this unity of their residence in a relation of general mutual interdependence stand in an innate potential total possession of the earth. This community of possession comes to them as an inborn right... "
Kant speaks of a "communio originaria" of the earth but does not derive from that the postulate of a nationalization of the land. He awards to every person - every person! - the right to a private use of a piece of land. However this right is not only a possession right, that is a right of use or a legally guaranteed right to private land ownership. The land remains the property of all but - and here one has to interpret Kant - it can be lent in fragments to individuals for use. This is the meaning of the sentence: "Of land I cannot say that it is mine but only that I have a privilege or prerogative to possess it exclusively."
This relation of use and possession is also tied to conditions: 1. One may only choose this possession "according to the laws of freedom" which means for Kant that one may not violate the freedom rights of others and 2. I may not claim land "through my mere arbitrariness" but only insofar as its "use... is necessary for the preservation of my existence". In principle these two conditions that are crucially significant for our theme exclude land speculation. Firstly, land speculation would violate the freedom rights of others since it would only be possible in a system of legally protected private property from which others are excluded. Secondly, land speculation is not necessary for the preservation of the existence of the speculator but only serves his greed for money.
In his treatise "On Eternal Peace", Kant takes up the theme and establishes his rejection of private property in earth and land with the spherical form of the earth. In one of the definitive articles on eternal peace, he writes: "The right of world citizenship should be limited to conditions of universal hospitality." By hospitality, he understands "the right of a stranger not to be treated hostilely on account of his arrival in the land of another." A right of hospitality does not exist but a "right of visitation which is due to all people and which is able to offer society the right of communal possession of the surface of the earth on which as a spherical surface they cannot be scattered into the infinite. Rather they must at last co-exist with one another. Originally, no one has more right to a place of the earth than the others." Kant emphasizes "the right of the surface which comes communally to the human species" and which he declares as a natural right.
In Kant's perspective, the spherical form of the earth makes the earth's surface, that is earth and land, into a finite, limited surface that remains constant and cannot be enlarged. If the earth were an infinite surface, the possibility would exist at least theoretically that every inhabitant of the earth could appropriate a piece of this surface and a restriction on this right of appropriation would not be necessary. However the spherical form of the earth constitutes a pre-political natural right and a human right to land can be derived from that fact. Thus the human right to housing is ultimately also established by the spherical form of the earth since housing claims land.
While Kant's conceptions of a natural right and thus a human right to earth and land can be stylized as a utopia, the idea of human rights as such is already a utopia. Kant himself would probably speak more of a regulative idea. However that may be, the positive function of such utopias or ideas is to hold a mirror before a non-correspondent social reality in which its deficiencies can be recognized. At the same time utopias serve as orientation models for reform efforts to remove these deficiencies.
The Right of Speculation Breaks Human Rights
How does the reality of our possession- and property relations in the matter of land appear in the mirror of the Kantian human rights utopia? The answer can only be that this reality is a singular violation of human rights since land for us is not a good which - like air, sunlight and water - belongs to all in common but a commodity with which those controlling sufficient private property or equivalent credits can speculate at pleasure guided by their egoistic interests. When land becomes a commodity, it loses the quality of a good to which every person has an "innate" right and becomes an obje4ct of investment and speculation handed over to the caprice of the market. From a general condition of life, land becomes a playground of ruthless private interests. The middle class majority in our parliaments and governments has formulated the corresponding laws so that our much-praised constitutional state in the praxis of land- and housing speculation protects the sharks from the sardines.
Is this an exaggeration? I'd like to quote a proven scientific expert. In the Basler Zeitung" (Basel newspaper) of January 29, 1990 under the title "The Human Economy", there is a report on the 38th winter meeting of the Association for Free Enterprise in Engelberg. In this report we read: "At the beginning, Guy Kirsch, professor of financial management at the University of Freiburg, frightened the participants: The `good old' market economy is completely different than licking sugar but strictly speaking is an `inhuman' institution. The person during business hours is forced to act not as a person but as an economic subject concentrated only on material interests. After closing time this subject can and may first be a full person for whom feelings are important. For Kirsch, mistrust not trust is one of the foundations of the market economy."
When a professor of financial management at a Swiss university declares the market economy in toto to be "inhuman", something must be wrong with this economic form. In surveying the land market, one becomes breathless. Land prices in Switzerland have doubled in the last two years alone. To buy a square meter of land on the railway street in Zurich, a person with a good income would have to work two to three years today and use his whole income for this purchase since this square meter costs around 250,000 francs. In the center of Geneva, the price would be 100,000 francs. According to a report of the weekly newspaper "Wochenzeitung" (Dec 22, 1989), 2000 apartments in Geneva are vacant for reasons of speculation while there are 4000 applications of seekers of housing in the city bureau and another 7000 applications in the canton administration. The right of speculation breaks human rights.
Grey Area between Office and Prison
The Zurich daily "Tages-Anzeiger" (Dec 8, 1989) published an article by Roger Keller titled "Renters Tremble before 26 year old Multi-Millionaire". I will not honor this lad by naming his name. His person is completely uninteresting: let's call him X. In the article we read: The 26 year-old multi-millionaire "buys apartment houses, gives notice to the tenants to vacate and drastically raises the rents. When it seems necessary to him, X struggles against disagreeable tenants. He breaks into apartments, takes papers or keys or insults and threatens innocent persons... When a judge recently asked how many houses he owned, X declared: "Counting my houses has never entered my mind. No, really not." As owner and manager, he had at least 1000 apartments under his control. The "real estate businessman", as he calls himself, has founded or bought several firms since 1986. Concerning X's practice, we read: "X took over the Estoria firm which has an apartment house in Ruschlikon. He told the tenants that a change of ownership had occurred (even though the transfer of a firm is not regarded as a change of hands), gave notice to vacate to all the tenants, later presented new rental agreements with drastically higher rents (up to 93 percent more) and threatened the residents." X did the same thing in Thurgau. According to the "Tages-Anzeiger", "In Thurgau (as in other cantons), a judgment of the upper court that still has not been appealed protects this procedure with the principle `Buyers break rents'... The list of cases in which X proceeded in accordance with this rascal pattern and profited from a mild administration of justice could be easily extended." "According to data from the tax office of the city of Wintherthur, X reported a net income of 26,300 francs and no assets for 1987 and 1988 in his income tax returns." Then in August 1989 before the Zurich district court he declared assets of "10 to 20 million francs". Thus he should not be seen as a real estate businessman. The same Zurich district court sentenced X to 42 days in prison for intimidation, practical deprivation and trespass. The machinations of speculation cannot be punished legally.
Certainly this is an extreme case. But if X had only acted out his idea more prudently, he would not have come before the judge. A large part of the businesses in the real estate market move in a gray area between legality and illegality. Only the most massive frauds and other legal transgressions with which the courts are occupied become public knowledge. Another case that could be mentioned here brings light into this gray area between office and prison by illumining the role of the banks.
Rolf Gilgen reported about a fraud of millions of Zurich real estate trader Y in "Tages-Anzeiger" (Jan 24, 1990) under the title "Is There Wild Growth in the Real Estate Business? District Attorney presumes only the Tip of the Iceberg behind the Case of Speculator Y". This district attorney declared to journalists: "In the real estate milieu, morals prevails which I had not known before." The 30 year-old real estate shark Y succeeded "in building a gigantic real estate empire within a few years". The investigative organs discovered over 100 real estate firms. "Y did not file any income tax returns in the last years. The tax board of the Elgg community estimates Y's new income for 1987 at 2,000,000 francs. According to the tax statement, he had no net assets." The "Tages-Anzeiger" adds: "Raising the funds necessary for financing from the banks was obviously easy for him. By the end of last week, it was clear that everything did not happen correctly." On account of suspicion of frauds in the millions, an advertisement was discontinued. Y vanished and different banks began to tremble since a total default of 50 million francs was at stake. One director at the bank association in Altdorf was dismissed; two vice-directors were discharged at the American Express bank in Zurich. They were investigated for disloyal management. "In the first days of the criminal investigation, district attorney Baumgarten was filled with astonishment. `In the real estate branch, an extreme wild growth is obviously spreading. Serious changes of hands and serious business activity are not central', said Baumgarten... `The real estate Rambos have been raking in money... The banks rushed money to the real estate traders. The yield was 100 percent certain since there is always someone who will buy higher and pay prices without any economic reason... Meanwhile a salaried employee of Y has been arrested. He is facing legal action on account of intimidation. In addition he threatened one of the dismissed directors with a weapon."
Mixture of the Lunatic Asylum and the Media
The two extreme cases were taken up by the press. However is this only a shade different from what the Zurich district attorney calls a serious business activity, serious changes of hands and economic reason? Isn't the supposed seriousness, that is the normal case, already a borderline case between legality and criminality at least from a social-ethical perspective, even if our legally-annoying -property-above-everything laws protect this normality? On Nov. 11, 1988 the "Tages-Anzeiger" reported that "the Rue Chantepoulet house (in Geneva) was sold 5 years ago for 4.8 million, then for 6.5 million and two years ago for 13 million... without any works having been performed." Thus real estate sharks have collected over 8 million francs in very legal, serious, normal ways in 5 years without lifting a finger... The Vacheron house in Geneva rose in value within a single year in the course of three sales from 9 to 48 million francs (TA, May 17, 1989). According to an estimate of the federal office for housing, 20 percent of all real estate deals in Zurich and other cities will be sold several times within 10 years (TA, July 24, 1989).
In the mirror of the Kantian human rights utopia, the seriousness, normality and legality of our land- and real estate market appears as a mixture of the lunatic asylum and the Mafia. The whole subject is covered under the title "social market economy". In Zurich, the rent index increased 7.8 percent in 1989. At the end of the year, the vacancy inventory amounted to 65 apartments. City councilor Willy Kung spoke of a "rental shortage" (Basler Zeitung, Dec 22, 1989). In the fifties, 10 to 15 percent of the monthly income in Switzerland had to be spent for apartment rents. Today it is 30 to 50 percent (Basler Zeitung, Nov 3, 1989). Is this a social market economy! According to city councilwoman Ursula Koch, 32 percent of taxable Zurich citizens have a taxable income under 20,000 francs. The term "rental shortage" doubtlessly corresponds to the reality of one-third of our society. A graphic picture emerges for that "two-thirds society" into which middle class society is transformed everywhere. Two-thirds of our society is materially relatively well-off to very well-off, one third is relatively poor to very poor. In the extensive ETH study we read "The rental prices for new apartments in the overcrowded areas are exorbitant for average working people. Vast sectors of the population are affected today by a structural housing shortage... "
Is This a "Social Market Economy"?
Is this supposed social market economy still a market economy? Certainly the speculators have a free course. But whoever is down on his luck and belongs to the lower third of the two-thirds society can often only be guaranteed the human right to housing with state assistance. The state, an organ for the practice, guarantee and advancement of the private economy, obviously has no interest in raising the mass protest potential of those falling into rent distress. I do not deny that a very good and genuine social will is often present in the social-, construction- and housing offices. But can one speak credibly of the market economy when the state is forced more and more to compensate for the social deficiencies of the market economy dominated by speculation with subsidies, social grants, its own investments and its own social housing construction? Millions upon millions of public funds - approved in part by referendums - are spent to mitigate the rent distress. In west Germany, state housing subsidy grants federally and locally amount to over 5 billion DM a year. Is this a market economy? The idea "social market economy" is a lie just like the idea "real existing socialism". I ask you not to overlook the fine distinction between "is" and "was".
Our present state provides two thirds of society with comfortable and luxurious dwellings at rental prices which these two-thirds can afford. For the other third, the housing question is a question of rental prices. The state has to pay for the social costs of the crassly unsocial speculative economy with tax money. With our tax money we indirectly finance the speculative profits that are only possible because speculation has no regard for the social costs. Is this a social market economy? Only at the margin will we mention that the so-called institutional investors - pension funds, insurances and so forth - have a stabilizing effect since they are not interested in speculative profits but merely want to invest their money.
The result is that our economic system fulfills the postulate of a human right to housing insofar as it normally makes available a sufficient number of apartments to the people. It simultaneously violates the human rights principle of freedom and equality by way of land and rental prices in such a crass way and creates social hardships for one third of the people that rent has become the criterion for the fulfillment of the human rights postulate, not the number of available apartments. What use is an adequate housing supply if I cannot pay the rental price? The human rights idea "with equal rights" implies the conception of an equal right to housing space. However these "equal rights" remain merely formal if they cannot be observed for socio-economic reasons.
The constitutional state is an inalienable good but if its laws legalize an economic system which in the sphere of real estate must be characterized as a mixture of the lunatic asylum and the Mafia and produces a two-thirds society, then the constitutional state is transformed into a state of social injustice and the appeal to the former serves only too often for the legitimation and safeguarding of the latter.
Not surprisingly in an interview in "Magazin" (1989) the central president of the Swiss Homeowners association, Dr. Hans Feldmann, declared that the "basis of its political action was... the constitutionality standing above all things". Dr. Feldmann, deputy judge of the federal court, president of the association of Swiss cheese exporters, administrative counsel of the Swiss cheese union, director of the Swiss association of cable television businesses who lives with his wife in a two-story house stated: "There isn't yet a housing shortage in Switzerland." The housing problem is a distribution problem. But since the state may in no case intervene, a planned state economy would be worst of all. Housing shortage is only a slogan, emphasized the proud owner to an assembly of tin soldiers. Behold, constitutionality above everything!
Mr. Feldmann is right: the housing problem is a distribution problem in our society. I would merely offer a little semantic precision and speak of a distribution problem conditioned by income.
A System Crisis
You now ask, how can this distribution problem be solved. We've already heard the answer of the president of the Swiss Ho0meowners association: no state interventions, reduction of restrictive regulations in construction, planning and environmental protection. Thus a return to a Manchester liberalism which hopes for the general well-being - and most importantly one's own well-being - from the wrangling of economic egoisms. Still this system has produced the lunatic asylum and the Mafia as represented by wide stretches of the real estate market today. As long as we have the laws and the relations of production-, property- and land rights that we have, the distribution problem simply cannot be solved. At best the social hardships and injustices can be partially softened through increased state interventions and private good-will campaigns borne by a social engagement.
I'd like to mention one local campaign about which I've become informed. The "Right to Housing Foundation" established in 1958 is administered by the Zurich architect Felix Schwarz and the Meilen telephone engineer Josef Strebel. Under the greatest difficulties caused by the authorities and the banks and without subsidies, 50 beautiful apartments were built in Meilen near the sea of Zurich. A 3-room apartment with the extras costs 850 francs today; a 5-room apartment has a rent of 13,000 francs. A rent increase made necessary by the increased mortgage interest was resolved after one year. Still architect Schwarz is not optimistic about the future. The raging land prices, he reckons, can only be stopped if all the speculative profits are controlled. The acquisitive economy must be transformed into an economy of need (an essential economy). This is a political question. Feliz Schwarz looks resigned. He did not envy me for my task of lecturing on the housing question, he told me.
Our system allows us to build oases of reason and social solidarity like the "Right to Housing" foundation in the complex real estate wilderness of Switzerland. However these oases cannot change anything in the system rotten in its core. A democratically legitimated politics does not control the economy. Rather an economy becoming more and more powerful that is not democratically legitimated increasingly defines politics. Our system undermines democracy "systematically" in the practical literal sense. The spy affair in Switzerland is only an especially spectacular symptom of a crisis that is a system crisis, not a state crisis.
The condition for adapting the housing market to the human rights postulate would be a radically reconstructed economic base. Only this reconstruction could create a land right perestroika in the real estate realm oriented in Immanuel Kant and starting from the principle that the land belongs to everyone. The land must be unconditionally de-privatized and awarded to the communities. Democratic self-government organs of the communities would then distribute the land for use with rent to private persons and institutions.
Land would be withdrawn from speculation since it would not be alienated by the lessees. Holding land would merely be an actual possession for a time and no longer a legally guaranteed property. For a long while there have been concrete projects of a land right perestroika like the "Swiss Society for a New Land Right" presented in 1978. But who in our property-obsessed land of illusion would give such a model a chance of being realized in the foreseeable future?
The human right to housing remains largely a toy in the inscrutable real estate game between the insanity of an unrestrained development of land prices, the Rambo culture of speculators and Mafia, stabilizing institutional investors and social state interventions in a two-thirds society which already contradicts the spirit of human rights. We should lower our voices somewhat when we speak of human rights in this land.
"We suffer in that our earth and land which the person needs most of all belong in the largest part to individuals who can manage it almost as they want. This was not always true. In earlier centuries the private ownership of land did not have the same power as today for the simple reason that there was still vast untilled undeveloped and uninhabitated land and the earth already cultivated was in large part a common possession. Not only the pasture lands and the forests but also much agricultural land was apportioned in lots according to the needs of life and the different growth of families. Thus one appearing in economic life as an unpropertied person was not assigned to the conditions which the accidental owners of the land set for him to become resident and independent. A monopoly could not exploit the private ownership of the land even where it existed but was harmless. Where one could not acquire private land, the possibilities of the land that was still free or common were open...
The next goal must be to unburden the cities and give the non-agricultural population the possibility for great projects on a communal foundation to establish themselves in permanent homesteads with gardens not for sale and withheld from the market. These gardens must be large enough so that a maximum in self-sufficiency is possible through intensive cultivation (vegetables, fruits, potatoes and so forth) and breeding small animals. Thus the presuppositions for passage to the future were created where the worker only worked part of the workday in the factory and the rest of the time on his own earth in the circle of his family."
(Max Gerber/ Jean Matthieu, Clara and Leonhard Ragaz/ Dora Staudinger: Ein sozialistisches Program, Olten 1919)
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