Landlords Are Parasites
Why do we reward extractors and not contributors?
Authors note: Today will be a hard word for some people, but I care too much about the poor to not speak out against injustice. I am reminded of Jeremiah 6:10-11— “To whom can I speak and give warning? Who will listen to me? Their ears are closed so they cannot hear. The word of the Lord is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it. But I am full of the wrath of the Lord, and I cannot hold it in.”
I received an email from a working mother this week who has paid nearly $40,000 in rent in the past eighteen months.
She and her husband both work full-time, but their rent keeps going up. Facing yet another price hike — from $2,200 to $2,600 per month, with no other viable options for a family with three young kids since their town got devoured by investors and Airbnbs — they decided to move nearly 300 miles away from their parents, shattering the day-to-day family relationship between three generations. The grandparents wept as their kids and grandkids moved five hours away.
The young couple’s landlord once joked to the couple that their rent was paying for his children’s education.
In fact, while the young working couple is now down $40,000, the landlord is not only up by $40,000, but the house has increased in value by more than $100,000 — a nearly $200,000 swing in the direction of inequality and anti-meritocracy.
Despite the fact that the landlord left a long list of needed maintenance undone throughout their tenancy, when they moved out he asked them to re-paint multiple rooms in the house.
The young family encouraged the landlord to rent the house to another young family for $2,200. Instead, the landlord decided to rent it to three college guys for $2,600. (Because the market always knows what’s best for society, right?)
And that’s just one family.
Rents have been soaring for a decade and have gone into overdrive since 2020, despite the fact that landlords are providing zero additional value, and tenants are living in buildings that have aged two years. (In Australia, single-bed sleep pods rent for $900/month.) Wasn’t the promise of capitalism that value would increase and prices would fall over time?
At a crushing national median rent of nearly $2000/month, nearly $2.8 trillion will flow from the pockets of the contributor class to the extraction class this year.
The question moral people must ask is: Why?
What is the legal mechanism by which landlords are allowed to reap $2,791,663,968,000+ off the backs of the working class?
The answer, of course, is that for-profit landlording is a massive act of sinful fraud.
Resetting our perspective
“Many a man is harassed to death to pay the rent…” — Henry David Thoreau
Fish don’t realize they live in water.
Renters, landlords, and homeowners don’t realize they live in a massively corrupt shelter scam.
As Thoreau said:
“The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.”
It helps to put shelter in its proper context:
When all the land and materials on planet Earth were free, an enterprising family could build a home in less than 500 hours. If they built it of stone, it could last for fifty generations. (I once lived in a 250-year-old stone house in which each generation had made their few hundred hours of improvements, to the point that the house had skylights and heated floors.)
Our grandparents spent less than 5,000 hours paying off their homes.
Our generation will spend 50,000+ hours just to keep a roof above our heads.
How many hours must a rent-serf pay for their shelter?
A rent-serf must pay an unlimited number of hours to a landlord in order to receive the shelter that once was theirs for free.
And $2,000/month will seem like chump change decades from now, as house prices soar to $10 million and shocking rents crush everyone but the richest workers.
I’m of the old-fashioned opinion that a lifetime of owned shelter shouldn’t take more than a year to pay off.
The physical materials still grow freely, but because of the monopolization of all land and resources (capitalists call this “privatization”), the price-time of shelter continues to soar with no end in sight.
Henry David Thoreau — the father of environmentalism and the political inspiration for Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. — also believed that a year’s work should be enough to provide adequate shelter for a lifetime:
“I thus found that the student who wishes for a shelter can obtain one for a lifetime at an expense not greater than the rent which he now pays annually.”
This, of course, is no longer possible today. The price of land and materials are wildly inflated because they are monopolized, and developers collude with zoning departments to ensure only the ugliest and most expensive of dwellings can receive the various and sundry bureaucratic permissions and approvals.
And whatever houses do get built get devoured by landlords.
Landlording is a monopoly
How do landlords make a profit?
By lording land.
Quite literally, a land-lorder monopolizes a piece of property, then preys on the desperation of others to extract rent.
They’re exactly like ticket scalpers who buy more tickets than they need, then hoard them to drive up the price. Land-lorders are just house scalpers who contribute no value to the economy:
“A propertied class is freed from the labour of production through its ability to maintain itself out of a surplus extracted from the primary producers, whether by compulsion or by persuasion or (as in most cases) by a mixture of the two.”
— G.E.M de Ste. Croix
Consider this horrible land-lorder, who aims to devour $1 billion in property in order to “provide” 4,000 single-family homes to the working class.
Land-lorders do not provide a good or a service.
They hold a property hostage.
They literally lord a house over others.
In fact, I chatted with a land-lorder this week who informed me of his plans to buy the multi-acre field beside his mansion and tennis court “to stop anyone from building on it.” In other words, the huge rents his tenants are paying to stay sheltered are being used to monopolize more land to keep others from having shelter.
Land-lorders lack the creativity, drive, risk, time, and/or skill to build real, productive businesses that contribute goods and services to the world, so they choose to lord land over others instead.
Land-lording is lazy, and it is a gross misallocation of capital. It is the textbook definition of rent-seeking:
“Rent-seeking is the effort to increase one’s share of existing wealth without creating new wealth. Rent-seeking results in reduced economic efficiency through misallocation of resources, reduced wealth creation, lost government revenue, heightened income inequality, and potential national decline.”
In other words, land-lording is a form of communal theft.
Monopolies are not only immoral but illegal.
Yes, I said it: For-profit land-lording is an illegal and immoral monopoly.
Even Adam Smith knew land-lording is a monopoly:
“The rent of land, therefore, considered as the price paid for the use of the land, is naturally a monopoly price. It is not at all proportioned to what the landlord may have laid out upon the improvement of the land, or to what he can afford to take; but to what the farmer can afford to give.”
In other words, the land-lording class will squeeze from the productive class as much wealth as it can realistically wring out before the rent-serf dies.
“The landlords operate a certain kind of monopoly against the tenants. The demand for their commodity, site and soil, can go on expanding indefinitely; but there is only a given, limited amount of their commodity…. The bargain struck between landlord and tenant is always advantageous to the former in the greatest possible degree.”
Land-lorders own all the homes, and since rent-serfs by definition cannot afford to purchase shelter in a privatized economy — how could you possibly save up a downpayment while you’re paying someone else’s mortgage? — they have no choice but to pay maximal usury to a land-lorder.
But why do land-lorders have the “right” to charge what they do?
Because they own all the houses.
Why do they own all the houses?
Because they have a capital (or usually credit) advantage over rent-serfs. Real estate investors can always afford to outbid would-be homeowners. Therefore, prices rise. Therefore, more productive contributors have to become rent-serfs and compete for fewer rental properties. Rent costs rise. Investment values rise. Rent costs rise. Investment values rise. The whole inequality structure spins higher and higher until the working class is crushed.
The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, and the evil of rent-seeking is one of the greatest sins on earth today.
What is rent?
Rent is a form of interest, or what we used to call usury.
Banksters lend money and expect to receive it back with interest.
Land-lorders lend houses and expect to receive them back with rent.
Put another way, when a bankster loans someone $500,000 for a house, he expects to receive the $500,000 cash plus interest.
When a land-lorder loans someone a $500,000 house, he expects to receive back the $500,000 house plus rent.
Dante described this exploitative system as:
“An extraordinarily efficient form of violence by which one does the most damage with the least effort.”
That’s why Dante envisions usurers in the lowest circle of hell.
Charging interest is a sin and a moral crime against human society, rational mathematics, and planetary sustainability. Money usury and shelter usury need to become culturally unacceptable as soon as possible. People should be embarrassed to be land-lorders. They should feel shame that they abuse the working class with monopoly and usury and perpetual serfdom.
Never forget that land-lording creates more wealth inequality. When the working poor have to hand over their wealth to the landed gentry, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. More land-lording has never once in history closed the ever-widening wealth gap.
On a long enough time scale, the rent-serf pays for all the costs of the property, including renovations, repairs, maintenance, and the original purchase price, through their monthly usury payment. Yet they have nothing to show for it.
116 million tenants work all month and finish with nothing.
23 million landlords don’t work all month and finish with everything.
Like bankster interest, the land-lorder has done nothing to deserve his windfall profits. He has not contributed anything to society. He has not created an equal exchange of value. He has done the opposite. He has held a home hostage and flayed a profit in the form of shelter interest. (And profit, as we have discussed before, is the ultimate economic inefficiency.)
This is a huge reason why we need to ban for-profit land-lording.
Even Adam Smith, the father of capitalism, said that land-lording “has its origin in robbery,” and that land-lorders “love to reap where they never sowed, and demand a rent even for the natural produce of the earth.”
So what is land-lording in actual fact?
It is the monopolization of human shelter for the purposes of extracting usury.
The myth of the “good” land-lorder
“A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right” — Thomas Paine
There are, of course, tens of millions of land-lorders who think they are good people who are actually providing a public benefit and a real service to society. That’s what sin does—it blinds us to the plight of others and especially the poor.
I have dear friends, including Christians, who are for-profit land-lorders. That’s the problem with land-lording — it isn’t personal, it’s systemic. It’s such a broken and corrupt system that even good people get caught up in an actively hateful act. Even though they say and feel like they love people, their actual exploitative actions are by definition hateful.
I can’t tell you how many variations of the same sob story I’ve heard:
“But I rent below market value!”
As we’ve discussed, this is nonsense:
If for-profit land-lording was banned and all 23,879,953 land-lorders were forced to sell their tens of millions of monopolized properties today, the price of houses would joyously plummet back towards affordability.
Suddenly, tens of millions of working renters would be able to buy their family homes for a smaller monthly cost than their current rental payment. (Democracy, of course, would still have to force banksters to approve their mortgages.)
For the remaining few who still couldn’t or wouldn’t want to buy, even though their mortgage payment would be less than their current rental payment, not-for-profit rental institutions would meet the rental demand — co-ops, municipalities, counties, foundations, charities, for-benefits, etc.
It would be the glorious and long-overdue end of shelter-usury, and it would make “but I rent below market value” utterly laughable — because true usury-free rent would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $300/month right now.
Next time a land-lorder pretends to be charitable with you, call them out.
Unless a land-lorder is letting people live in a house at true cost and giving away 100% of the increase in value of the property when they sell it, they are profiting from a corrupt system that exploits the working poor.
In other words, if a land-lorder truly wanted to help provide affordable shelter to people, they would start a not-for-profit charity and derive no personal benefit.
The dark truth about land-lording
It is very rare that people are brutally honest.
This land-lorder, however, has no problem speaking his mind:
In other words, this horrible human being wants to push rent prices so high that it completely taps the tenant market — until he is making so much usury that 7+% of the population is literally homeless.
What’s ironic is that even the “nicest” of land-lorders is unknowingly part of this mass homelessness-creation system.
If you’d like to see how dark the rentier class can get, check out this short video.
Capitalism chases what’s profitable, not what’s most needed (think: Louis Vuitton purses versus white rice.)
So the market always seeks the maximal rental price for human shelter, not the minimum so everyone can afford to live indoors.
Picture every land-lorder on earth as part of a cartel. How does this cartel gain money? By collectively monopolizing all available homes. They hold these houses hostage until someone can pay them a satisfactory amount of usury. If the rent-serf loses their job or has an accident and cannot pay the mobster’s monthly protection free, they are just weeks away from being thrown to the streets to die like a dog.
Do not think for a moment that I am being hyperbolic here — there are more than 500,000 homeless people in America, and tens of thousands die on the streets every single year.
But the land-lorder doesn’t care.
“It’s not my problem,” he says.
But it is.
Because who created this destructive structure in the first place?
The end of rent-seeking
Rewarding parasitic extractors for monopolizing a human necessity in order to extract usury from the working class is a grossly evil way to structure society and a hateful way to treat other human beings.
Rent-seeking isn’t meritocratic, sustainable, biblical, just, reasonable, pro-productive, equality-inducing, or net-positive for society.
We should permanently fix the affordable homeownership crisis:
Build sufficient supply.
It’s literally that simple.
Houses would go back to costing 2–3X the annual income of a single earner, ensuring widest-spread homeownership and legitimately affordable not-for-profit rentership that doesn’t cost anyone their entire life, or even more than a year or two.
Capitalism is all about incentives — and we must remove the incentive to profit off human necessities like shelter.
Because private profit isn’t a human right.
But affordable shelter is.
The Bible is very clear in the Old and New Testament that usury is a sin, and Christians are starting to wake up to this reality. Jesus calls his church to not only abstain from exploiting the poor, but to joyfully participate in welcoming people into the family of God.
Our call from the Lord is to invite people home.
Jared Brock is an award-winning Christian biographer, PBS documentarian, and the cell-free founder of the popular futurist blog Future Faith, where he provides thoughtful people with contrarian perspectives on the corporatist anti-culture. His writing has appeared in Christianity Today, Relevant, Esquire, The Guardian, Smithsonian, and TIME Magazine, and he has traveled to more than forty countries including North Korea. Join 25,000+ people who follow him on Medium, Twitter, and Substack.
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