[ExI] Property rights and land/was Re: Friedman and negative income tax

dan_ust at yahoo.com dan_ust at yahoo.com
Thu May 7 18:01:59 UTC 2009

--- On Wed, 5/6/09, Damien Sullivan <phoenix at ugcs.caltech.edu> wrote:
> On Mon, May 04, 2009 at 06:40:24AM -0700, Dan wrote:
>> Also, given the context of your statement, the
>> difference between a
>> GI, negative income tax, and other such public wealth
>> transfers and
>> all forms of private ones is that the former must
>> violate property
>> rights -- someone is forced to pay.  In both
>> cases, yes, free-loaders
> But how are property rights distributed?

The general libertarian view is that property rights arise from one of three ways:

1.  First appropriation (AKA homesteading)
2.  Exchange
3.  Gift

Note: they are not "distributed" in the sense of a central body deciding who gets what.  The usual course would be from unowned something or other to justly appropriated property and then possibly to exchanging this property (trading it for other justly owned property) or gifting -- or abandoning it.  In the last case, abandonment, the something or other can be appropriated by someone else.  Of course, there are debates over what consistitutes just appropriation and abandonment.

On the latter, there are extreme views, such as nothing is ever really abandoned to only property that is currently occupied or in use is actually owned.  I think the valid view is somewhere between these and dependent on cultural context and technology.  If some of our desires come to pass, such as people living really, really long times, for example, then abandonment might have to be reconfigured.  Just because you left a home on Ceres for a few centuries doesn't mean you've abandoned it.  At the same time, with better technology and an awareness of this issue, people might opt for explicitly abandoned items or realize that a seven hundred year old property claim is not going to be respected by most legal authorities.

On the former -- just what is just appropriation -- most seem to settle on cultural (including technological) context.  This allows for some fuzziness, but statism provides no real resolution -- merely kicks the problem to the government deciding the issue rather than providing a transparent set of rules for deciding it.

> If someone owns land, they can basically be the
> government, a veritable king, on that land. 
> "Pay me rent! 
> Obey my rules or I evict you!"

Well, the difference is, again, how it was acquired.  If she justly acquired the land and there are no other claims to it -- such as usufruct or rights of passage claims -- then she may dispose of it as she sees fit.  Governments have never acquired land that way.  They proclaim they own what others already occupy, use, and otherwise would be called the rightful owners of said land.  (This even applies in the case of nomads.  One could easily justify them occupying a range of land on rights of passage if not real property ownership.  And it also applies to group ownership.)  Where they do buy land, they purchase it with funds that are not rightfully theirs -- paying, in effect, with stolen goods -- whether they buy it from a rightful owner or from another government (as in the case of, say, the purchase of Alaska by the US government from the Russian government).

> Not a huge problem with many competitive small
> landowners --
> though shared norms against blacks or gays can make life
> hard for those
> renters -- but if someone owned all the land, they'd be a
> 'legitimate' government.

Again, how did the "landowners" in your scenario come to own the land?  In my view, were libertarian rules in effect, most of the world would be unowned -- instead of claimed by governments and their corporate sponsors.  The parts there were owned would all be privately owned -- either by individuals or groups -- with usufruct and other rights limiting some of this.  (E.g., you might buy a several hectares near me, but I might have a right to peacefully cross your land within certain limits and regardless of your consent.  So, you might lack, say, a right to completely stop me from such passage, though you might not allow me to, say, run a tractor trailer across your garden.)  Yes, they would have the right to set rules, but as there would be a lot more property to homestead AND they would bear the costs of stupid rules.*  So, people who let their irrational prejudices get in the way, would also pay the price for that.
>> Finally, as an aside, I think a problem is that having
>> forced wealth
>> transfers will eventually have a cultural impact -- as
>> some people
> If I have ot pay someone to rent land they own, where I do
> the work of
> constructing a house and all they contribute is legal
> access to the
> land, how is that not a forced wealth transfer?

It's not a forced transfer if the owner justly acquired the property.  Yes, in practice, a lot of land (and other property) has not be justly acquired.**  In those cases, it's quite likely that challenges to supposed owners will arise and where they go will depend on who can make the better case to the legal authorities.  However, if one case were to go in favor of a current landowner, yes, that means she owns the land and you have to pay her or leave.  (In such cases, too, improvements to said property might be deducted.  Hoppe actually brought up such cases with regard to de-socializing nationalized property in the early 1990s: the original just owner has a right to the original property, but not the improvements made.  I think this can get messy, BUT no more so that property rights issues under the current statist regimes.)



*   The current system means such costs are distributed to third parties, decoupling the cost of stupid decisions from their decision-makers, thereby preventing or slowing such decision-makers from learning and changing.  This is why there are episodes of stasis followed by reform: pressures for change must build until either the elite is behind it or the elite fears open rebellion.  This is a general problem with voice vs. exit systems.

**  Were a libertarian society to evolve in the context of the current mess, no doubt, some of this property would be returned to its rightful owners.  Where this is not possible, it's likely that the rest will either be put into a state of being unowned (ready to be justly appropriated) or divided up in a way that best addresses the problem (say, allowing current occupants to keep land when the original just owners can't be found).  In my view, possession would probably argue in favor of current owners and the "burden of proof" would be on the challenger.  This doesn't mean the status quo -- as in some cases, it's clear that it's easy to satisfy challenge.  The case of public property requires no challenge, since it's all been stolen; the problem is merely how to return it to its rightful owners; certainly, governments or their members have no just right to public property.


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