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Monday, April 4, 2011

Homesteading Spatial vs. Material Resources

Jonathan Hall wrote:

JH) People familiar to Locke's proviso may recognize this:  "while enough and as good remains for others."  The "while" does not refer to any single time but to all time.   [Allodial libertarians] falsely extend the non-violent conditions at the time of original homestead to justify aggression across all times.  What starts out as purely defensive force, will under conditions of scarcity turn into initiated force against absolute freedom. (JH

Jonathan, this argument seems to prove too much. Lots of abundant material things -- e.g. gold, oil -- might become scarce later, but that doesn't mean that absolute allodial ownership of them has later become initiated force.  It also shouldn't matter if the demand later increases, e.g. the late-born show up asking for their "share" of gold or oil.

To me, the crucial distinction is between material property and spatial "property".  Spatial "property" includes the surface of planets (e.g. land, harbors, waterways, seabeds), air routes, airspace, broadcast spectrum, orbits, and LaGrange points.  Unlike material property, spatial "property" cannot be created, destroyed, hidden, or moved.  Rather, it is reached, claimed and occupied -- and not always in that order.

The libertarian non-coercion principle seems to me to be silent on the question of whether homesteading an unused spatial resource should yield allodial ownership of the homesteaded space.  The equally-libertarian alternative axiom is that homesteading yields merely a right to exclusively occupy the space so long as a) "as much and as good" is available to others, or b) the excluded are compensated.  Neither geolibertarians nor allodial libertarians should be called unlibertarian for disagreeing on which axiom to endorse.

I prefer the geolibertarian axiom regarding spatial property for several reasons:
  • It makes it easier to hold an absolutist position defending material property.
  • It makes it easier to hold an absolutist position opposing all taxes.
  • The resulting land-occupancy fees can increase economic efficiency by internalizing the positive externalities of local public goods.
  • Land-occupancy fees can increase fairness by undoing the land subsidies created by local public goods. (This restates the previous point, since internalizing externalities increases fairness.)
  • Land-occupancy fees help radicalize minarchist libertarians who otherwise might grudgingly allow the State some authority to tax your body, labor, or exchanges.
  • It shows progressives and environmentalists that not all libertarians defend the interests of plutocrats.
  • It washes our hands of the shameful history of racist/imperialist/monarchist conquest that is so tightly bound into existing land titles.