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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Re: [LPSM-Discuss] When there's not enough charity...

The standard Libertarian dogma on the needy -- let 'em beg -- is simply wrong, and you apparently can sense that.  (Starchild can sense it too, or else he would just say "let 'em beg; charity will suffice"; instead he describes how evil welfare should be done better.)

The best libertarian answer to poverty derives from correcting a standard Libertarian misunderstanding of property rights.  That misunderstanding consists in ignoring Locke's insight that excluding people from the commons -- i.e. enclosing unowned land for exclusive ownership -- is naked aggression if that exclusion does not leave "as much and as good" for others.  Land (i.e. space, locations, sites, sections of the Earth's surface) cannot be created or moved or destroyed by anyone's labor, and so is a different category of property than that created by re-arranging matter.  Land (i.e. spacetime) is the coordinate system, and matter (i.e. mass-energy) is what exists in the coordinate system.  Owning a set of spatial coordinates is fundamentally different from owning the matter that currently exists there.  This seemingly academic distinction turns out to be the key to rescuing libertarianism from self-imposed moral bankruptcy.

In the state of nature there are always marginal but productive sites available for use by the destitute, and faithful historical observation of the Lockean proviso (leaving "as much and as good") should have always ensured that this remained the case even to this day.  To the extent that it is no longer the case, excluding people from access to the natural productive opportunities on what used to be the commons is unjust -- i.e. is aggression.  Standard anarcholibertarianism seeks to institutionalize this aggression -- ironically doing so in the name of de-institutionalizing aggression. The aggression that it institutionalizes is a subtle one called the appropriation of ground rent.

Ground rent is the advantage you get from exclusive use of a site compared to the most productive available site that is not in use.  In effect, ground rent is the extra income a site earns because of the exclusivity of its location within the community, as compared to what such a site would earn at the edge of the community.  Technically, ground rent is is the extra income obtained by using a site in its most productive use, compared to the income obtained by applying equivalent inputs of labor and capital at the most productive site where the application doesn't require (additional) payments for use of the site. Thus ground rent doesn't include the income from any labor-based site improvements -- buildings, irrigation, swamp drainage, etc.  Instead, ground rent includes just the benefit a site derives from the surrounding community by forcibly excluding them from it.

Geolibertarians say ground rent should be considered part of the commons (like the atmosphere, EM spectrum, etc.), with each individual having an equal right of access to it.  In practice, the way to undo the aggression of site monopolization is through a land value tax.  This allows a government to finance both rights protection and aid to the indigent, all without any force initiation.   The fundamental principle is that each person has full rights to his body, labor, peaceful production, and voluntary exchanges, but he must compensate those whose access he impairs when he monopolizes, consumes, pollutes, or congests a natural commons.  Details and references are available at