Thursday, April 23, 2009

Applied Liberty Theory: The Morality of Land Property

This is just the most recent post in a thread I've been participating in at the forums on It began with a discussion about "Scandinavian Socialism" and how, in many respects, they actually have a freer market than we do here in the United States. (The consensus seems to be that they allow considerably greater freedom... but also have very, very high taxes.) But there was one person who pointed this out, declaring that "social democracy" isn't anticapitalistic, but just a different approach to the same free market principle. Others attacked him, basically painting him red.

I decided to point out that many of the results a statist "liberal" (in the American sense) decries is potentially not the result of natural market functions, but rather various programs designed to redistribute wealth from producers to various representatives of the State, including an inflationary currency, tax fueled subsidies and politically favored contracting, a public debt which funnels tax dollars to those who are able to finance the government... and I even threw in a bit about unjust land distribution, which threw off one of the readers. I expanded on the other three, and dimissed that fourth bit, and, well, you can see the remainder below.


(except the economic rent part, which I just threw in to see if anyone bit).

See, you threw that in and you cloud the whole perspective of what you're trying to say.

Actually, it doesn't really cloud it at all, except to the extent that the idea it rests upon an idea alien to most libertarians (actually, people in general) and even threatening to absolute believers in property rights... when misunderstood, that is. But when it comes to the concerns of more lefty-types (who are more concerned with ends than means), it is another area in which the failure to adopt the princples of liberty results in the very situation egalitarian statists decry.

So far as I can see, Libertarians accept the "homestead" model of property in land. If someone is already using it, and another's activities negatively impacts that use, that is a violation. However, if another's use does not impact that homesteaded prior use, it is not a violation. Thus, in a rural setting, the fact that a farmer has corn in the field does not preclude a hunter from shooting deer in it (so long as he doesn't damage the stalks). The fact that a vinter has grapes in the vineyard does not preclude a man walking through the rows to get to the other side. The fact that a man has a little ribbon of land he paved over and calls a "private road" does not preclude the chicken from crossing it... assuming the chicken does not disrupt the flow of traffic on his way to the other side.

However, property in land in this country does NOT operate under this model. Our land "property" is establishhed not by homesteading, but rather from the extension of the State's claim to absolute dominion. This is the case whether you have a king parceling it out to his most trusted vassals in exchange for service, or a republican executive parceling it out to the highest bidder, regardless of whether that highest bidder actually intends to occupy it... or even to land which is parceled out on the basis on a "homestead act"; even if it is an attempt to most closely approximate a natural right to land, it stil rests upon the principle that the source of claims is not the right of the individual, but rather the dominion of the State. The State's claim rests not on homesteading, but on conquest.

The result is that you have a society that has those who, by virtue of their service to the state (or more likely their compensation of others who served at some point in the distant past), collect economic rent from those who have not. It is difficult to see, since the distribution of land "titles" in our society is a wide continuum, defying anything like "class analysis". Additionally the common use of the word "rent" refers not to a division of wealth tied to land, but rather to any payment for temporary use of any kind of property... confusing the issue in the mind of the layman. But is is real, and a means by which those more favored by the state collect wealth they did not produce from those who did... another fashion in which the State messes with the distribution of wealth for its own benefit, contributing to precisely the conditions that the statist "liberal" seeks to solve via the power of the state.

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