Symposium on Libertarianism and Land, Announcements

Introduction to the Symposium on Libertarianism and Land

Welcome to the Bleeding Heart Libertarians symposium on “Libertarianism and Land!”

The symposium will run from today, Monday April 23rd, through Friday April 27th. Each day of the symposium will feature an essay by one of our lead authors – Eric Mack, Hillel Steiner, Fred Foldvary, Kevin Carson, and David Schmidtz, in that order. Zac Gochenour will guest-comment on Fred Foldvary’s essay, and the regular BHL bloggers might chime in with posts of their own. But we encourage readers to participate as well, either in the comments thread here or with posts at your own blogs.

This is an important and rich topic and, as far as we can tell, a fairly novel format for presenting original philosophical debate. So it should be an interesting week in a number of ways! We hope you’re as excited as we are about the conversation.

Look below the fold for more information about our participants and their papers.

Eric Mack (Ph.D., University of Rochester) is a Professor of Philosophy. His primary philosophical interests are in the foundation of moral rights, property rights and distributive justice, and the legitimate scope of coercive institutions. He has related interests in doctrines of negative responsibility, just war theory, anti-positivist conceptions of law, retributivism, philosophical anarchism, and the history of libertarian thought. He has received grants from NEH, the Earhart Foundation, the Center for Social Philosophy and Policy, and the Bradley Foundation, and has participated in and organized many philosophical conferences. Eric’s essay, “Natural Rights and Natural Stuff,” will run today.


Hillel Steiner is Professor of Political Philosophy at the University of Manchester and was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1999. The main focus of Hillel’s teaching and publications is contemporary philosophical work on freedom, rights and social justice. His major work is An Essay on Rights which won the Political Studies Association’s best book prize for 1994 and which advances a theory of distributive justice that has come to be known as left-libertarianism. Hillel’s essay, “Left-Libertarianism and the Ownership of Natural Resources,” will run on Tuesday.


Fred E. Foldvary received his B.A. in economics from the University of California at Berkeley, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in economics from George Mason University. He is the author of The Soul of Liberty, Public Goods and Private Communities, Dictionary of Free Market Economics . He edited and contributed to Beyond Neoclassical Economics and, with Dan Klein, The Half-Life of Policy Rationales. Foldvary’s areas of research include public finance, governance, ethical philosophy, and land economics. Fred’s essay, The Geolibertarian Ethics of Land Rent,” will run on Wednesday.


Kevin Carson holds the Karl Hess Chair of Social Analysis at Center for a Stateless Society, a left-wing market anarchist think tank where he writes research papers and news commentary.  He’s the author of The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low-Overhead Manifesto, Organization Theory: A Libertarian Perspective, and Studies in Mutualist Political Economy.  His forthcoming book is tentatively titled The Desktop Regulatory State. Kevin’s essay, “A Defense – Such As It Is – Of Usufructory Land Ownership,” will run on Thursday.


David Schmidtz is Kendrick Professor of Philosophy, joint Professor of Economics, and founding director of Arizona’s Freedom Center. He works mainly in ethics, environmental ethics, rational choice, and political philosophy. He is the author of numerous books, including Rational Choice and Moral Agency, The Elements of Justice, and (with Jason Brennan) A Brief History of Liberty. David’s essay, “Land From the Ground Up,” will run on Friday.

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  • Nicolaus Tideman

    Eric Mack says, “a better approach to a natural rights libertarianism that would stand in contrast to left-libertarianism begins with a defense of a really basic natural moral claim of each individual not to be precluded from living his own life in his own chosen way; and this approach goes on to articulate or codify this moral claim through the ascription to each individual of certain natural rights.”
         On behalf of left-libertarianism, I would like to endorse the approach that Mack advocates and say that this looks like a good starting point from which to reach additional agreements among libertarians of the left and right.  One of the things that recommends equal land rights to left libertarians is the role of land rights in ensuring that each individual is not “precluded from living his own life in his own chosen way.”  Whatever life a person chooses to live, some land will be needed.  While it is true that a competitive market in land rights will allow a person to acquire land rights by trading his labor, there are some places in the world where land rights are so concentrated that those who have land rights have dictatorial powers over those who do not.  So all libertarians need to ensure that no one is precluded from having some access to land on which he can live his life in his own chosen way.
         Mack says, “As far as I can see, there is a striking dearth of arguments offered to move us from disbelief to belief in an original and equal right to the land.”  I would direct Mack and other interested readers to the argument that Bruce Ackerman makes in Social Justice in the Liberal State.  Ackerman postulates that 1) anyone who exercises power has an obligation to explain, to anyone who asks, why it is just that he exercises the power that he does, that 2) explanations of different powers must not be inconsistent with one another and that 3) no reason that purports to justify the exercise of power is adequate if it entails an assumption that the person exercising power is better than others or that his conception of the good is better than those of others.  Then, Ackerman points out, a person can justify a claim to power over an equal share of land on the ground that he is at least as good as anyone else, and that therefore he ought to have as much land as anyone else, with which to pursue his personal conception of the good.  Thus a person who takes care not to claim more land than others can claim (or who compensates persons with below-average claims if his claim is above average) has a way of justifying his claim to the land that he uses that is not available to those who claim more than others can claim. 
         Mack asks what is meant by “equal shares.”  The answer lies in the rental market for unimproved land.  Within a political jurisdiction, the market rent of unimproved land specifies the total value available and therefore what each person can claim.  Across jurisdictions, one should look not at unimproved land (vacant lots), but rather at what the rental value of land would be if it were not developed, so that the value of infrastructure and on-going economic activity is assigned to the individual political jurisdiction and not to a larger community.  Each political jurisdiction has a respectable claim to the land that it occupies if the pre-development rental value of its land is no greater, per capita, than all other jurisdictions can claim, or if it compensates jurisdictions with below-average claims.  When the use of land entails any form of depletion, the depletion of value must be included in the claim that must be justified.

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