Physical land was central to God’s plan to prosper Abraham. In light of this link between economic development and land ownership, it is important to look at the developing and former Communist nations of the world that are hamstrung from economic growth because of weak or nonexistent property rights. For prosperity to come to the individuals in these nations, one of the first needs is to improve the laws governing property ownership so people can own property free and clear.
Sadly, in many nations of the world, a piece of real estate might have as many as five or ten different people claiming ownership of it, and there is no functioning system to determine who owns the deed to this land. One person claims his uncle gave him the land, another says he bought it for an amount of money from the neighbor; another claims it is theirs because they have been squatting on it for the last few years. As long as it cannot be determined who the actual owner of the land is and that it is free of claims against it, no bank will accept this land as collateral for a loan that might be used to start a business.
Hernando De Soto in his book, The Mystery of Capital, describes this predicament. Imagine a country where nobody can identify who owns what, addresses cannot be easily verified, people cannot be made to pay their debts, resources cannot conveniently be turned into money, ownership cannot be divided into shares, descriptions of assets are not standardized and cannot be easily compared, and the rules that govern property vary from neighborhood to neighborhood or even street to street. You have just put yourself into the life of a developing country or former communist nation. More precisely, you have imagined life for 80 percent of its population … 80 percent of the world is undercapitalized; people cannot draw economic life from their buildings (or any other asset) to generate capital. In Haiti, according to our surveys, 68 percent of city dwellers and 97 percent of people in the countryside live in housing to which nobody has a clear legal title. Legal property empowers individuals in any culture.
Perhaps rather than sending billions of dollars of aid to developing nations, we should provide finances for their young people to get legal training in property law to put these legal structures in place so the people can prosper. Such laws also protect ownership as many people(s) have suffered the taking of their land unjustly as well. This is stealing, and God cannot bless land that is taken from others unjustly. Though some cultures celebrate common ownership of land, in most cases this does not allow for economic prosperity. The idea of private property rights is embedded in the Ten Commandments. “You shall not steal” underlines this principle. God’s plan is individual ownership and stewardship.
There is something about land that is really important to God. The story of Ruth is, of course, a great love story. But it is also the story of God giving a woman physical land. God took her from gleaning leftovers along the edge of the field to the owner of the field. When she married Boaz, who owned the field, she became an owner of the very field she formerly gleaned in as a pauper.