As I have shown elsewhere, the poor of the world are in possession of some $18 trillion of undocumented assets in real estate alone. But those assets will never attain their full value if they are not documented. As it stands, they cannot be used to raise capital. Nor can they be joined with other assets to create more complex and valuable holdings.
The lack of property rights also plays an important role in two areas of concern for both the pope and many U.S. leaders: the turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa and the protection of the environment.
The Arab Spring, it should be recalled, began after a Tunisian street vendor set himself on fire as a protest against the arbitrary expropriation of his undocumented assets. And much of the anger that drove people to the streets, led countries to the point of collapse, and drove millions from their homes was motivated by a desire for clear rights, including those protecting property.
Similarly, property rights are critical to environmental protection. Without clear documentation, it is impossible for authorities to determine who is accountable for damaging natural resources or responsible for restoring local ecosystems. Updated records are also needed to adjust conservation strategies to the opportunities and threats that arise as industry expands into virgin territories.
In the Amazon river headwaters, for example, most of the 1,496 local communities cannot fix precise boundaries — using universal coordinates and enforceable property law — to the land in their possession. As a result, individual residents struggle to protect their assets, adapt to environmental threats or respond to the challenges and opportunities of expanding globalization.
The fact that Francis is addressing the issue of documentation is important. It means the Vatican is not only asking why so few have so much, but also why so many have so little. By extending his compassion to those who lack property rights, the pope has an opportunity to do very much for very many.
Read the full article on the website of Japan Times