Links, Rights Theory

Blogging at Libertarianism.Org, Part 4: Liberty and Property

Speaking of property, my latest at is up, looking at the relationship between freedom and property. The controversial part of my thesis, at least for libertarians I guess, is that property rights necessarily restrict freedom. I think they enhance it in various ways too, but it’s important for libertarians to squarely face the costs. Along the way, I approvingly cite a well known Marxist academic. And I include this quote from … want to guess without Google?

[I]f one portion of the earth’s surface may justly become the possession of an individual, and may be held by him for his sole use and benefit, as a thing to which he has an exclusive right, then other portions of the earth’s surface may be so held; and eventually the whole of the earth’s surface may be so held; and our planet may thus lapse altogether into private hands. Observe now the dilemma to which this leads. Supposing the entire habitable globe to be so enclosed, it follows that if the landowners have a valid right to its surface, all who are not landowners, have no right at all to its surface. Hence, such can exist on the earth by sufferance only. They are all trespassers. Save by the permission of the lords of the soil, they can have no room for the soles of their feet. Nay, should the others think fit to deny them a resting-place, these landless men might equitably be expelled from the earth altogether.

David Friedman quickly followed up on my piece with a short critique. My rejoinder went up today. Knowing David, I don’t expect the conversation is anywhere close to being over.

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Author: Matt Zwolinski
  • famadeo

    Yeah. The issue gets more problematic with the insistence of thinking in violent binaries: property-barbarism. Property is not the same as a general use of resources.

  • I do not think this is a worthy argument. The alternative to private property is that every part of the planet is owned and controlled by states. This, history has shown us rebounds much more than does private property to the misery and poverty of the people.

    • matt b

      I agree with you if you’re arguing against some sort of collectivist scheme however there is a rich middle ground between that and Rothbardian property schemes such as the view that the right to property is strong but not absolute and that some taxation of the value of property is justified in light of providing for the needs of innocent people who find themselves lacking through no fault of their own.

  • I didn’t google the quote. Is it Locke?

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  • TonyFressola1950

    The sense in which “property rights necessarily restrict freedom” is, it seems to me, the same sense in which any right necessarily restricts the freedom of others in respect to the right holder. If Smith has a right to perform some action, then others have an obligation not to interfere with Smith’s performance (i.e., they are not “at liberty” to act in ways that interfere with Smith’s performance.) If Smith or Smith’s agents successfully enforce Smith’s right, then others are constrained from acting in ways that violate that right. Enforcement of the right secures Smith’s freedom by limiting the freedom of those that would infringe the right.

  • good_in_theory

    The quoted passage reminds me of something I read in a Libertarian book – I don’t remember the author, for some reason I think it was a couple, but it might have been Rothbard – in a section addressing the homeless. It offered, as a laudatory proposition, private property rights extending over every corner of the earth, and the homeless being excluded from each privately owned parcel. It left hanging the prospect of the consequence of universalizing this policy – which called to my mind the gruesomely poetic image of homeless people running from expanding artificial property lines, until, by force of law alone, they simply vanished into the ether. Of course one can say this is an absurd reduction, but I just liked (in a qualified sense) the image.

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