Here's something Thomas Jefferson said in 1802:
"I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property and their children will wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered."
Money, as I'm sure you know already, doesn't exist any more as an actual thing, but is a merely notional phenomenon. Every time someone needs a mortgage to buy a house, the lending institution verifies the borrower's capacity to pay, then authorises the loan. At that point, the money loaned does not as such exist; it comes into being only as figures on the balance sheet, and achieves reality only in the years of toil required to earn and repay it at substantial interest. So the lending institution offers only a number written down, but the borrower gives a portion of his or her life for those figures written in the column, plus a significant percentage in addition. The best that can be said of such a system is that at least the borrower obtains a piece of what we rightly call "real estate" — land, with a building on it. So the bank facilitates the exchange of labour — which is real — for land; which is also real.
There is a sense in which no one can own the land. How could anybody be so deluded as to think they in any sense can possibly own any part of creation, or to think that the living Earth can be parcelled up and sold, or to think they have the right to "own" what was made by God and given to us all — all species, all people? In that sense, everything owned is stolen, true enough. But at least real estate is truly real.
When I was about eleven years old, I went with my mother to visit my Auntie Jean and Uncle Bill, farmers in the West Riding of Yorkshire. While we were there, my uncle went outside and returned with a birthday gift for my mother — a sack of potatoes. It would last our family a long time, and be the basis of many meals. In thanking him, my mother said what an expensive gift he had given her. My uncle waved that away, and what he said to her has stayed with me all my life: "A bag of potatoes is worth a bag of potatoes." He evaluated the real by reality, not by some notional standard from the world of unreality. It was worth what you could eat, not what you could sell it for.
That's why land and buildings have real value and are real estate. The building can be a home or a place of business. Not only can you be safe there, but you can trade from there, take in others who have nowhere to go, you can store what you need for lean times or to make whatever you sell. And you can grow fruit and vegetables, herbs and flowers, mushrooms and nuts, on the land, or keep birds or animals there. You can grow firewood and compost human/animal/vegetable waste. Four bean plants and two courgette plants can give you most of the vegetables one person will need for a whole summer. With even a small plot of land and a modest dwelling, you can make life work. And if you have children, you can fulfil your responsibility in calling them into the world by leaving them the security of your little bit of real estate.
The government tries to stop you doing this, of course. As house prices have leapt in giant strides while inheritance tax (at 40%) thresholds have tiptoed modestly forwards, it has become ever harder to provide for one's children; what took a lifetime of work to establish can be raked away at the moment of death by the great institutional claw.
In recent times, I've noticed two particular instances of people's failure to grasp how important is real estate. One is a popular bumper sticker that finds no resonance in my soul: "We're spending our children's inheritance." This is meant to be funny. Words fail me. Folly to make the mind boggle.
The other comes to me in advertisements in magazines and on the television — financial institutions urging homeowners to "release the equity" in their homes, tempted by the idea of cruise holidays and new cars, by comforts and conveniences, to trade in the real for the unreal, the lasting for the ephemeral, to hand in their real estate in exchange for money that is merely notional and will not last.
Ready cash is always useful, and there are times and circumstances where people have to sell their homes; of course I understand that. But the land has a real and lasting value that a holiday and a motor car do not. When we part with the inheritance of the land, we deliver ourselves and our children into the hands of those to whom we have sold it. There is a real sense in which freedom is bound up with the land.
And the Earth — the green herbs and living water, the trees and oceans and lakes — are also the cradle of wellbeing and healing.
I do not think of myself as owning any part of the Earth; to me that would be arrogant presumption. But I have used almost all the money that has come my way to buy real estate, to obtain the right to plant trees, to grow a garden, and to make a place of shelter, peace and belonging for the people God has given into the circle of my heart's care.
May the land be blessed, the hills and the forests, the waters and the living creatures. May the hand of God hold back the reach of money; for Mammon is insatiable, and gives nothing back.