Private property and land; how it is first owned or “appropriated”

The primary social evil of our time is lack of respect for self-ownership rights. It is what underlies both private crime and institutionalized crime perpetrated by the state. State laws, regulations, and actions are objectionable just because the state is claiming the right to control how someone’s body is to be used.” (Steven Kinsella)

I promised you, dear readers, and myself, that I would continue today with a look at how land is first “appropriated” or first owned. I did not address that topic yesterday since I have a self-imposed rule to keep these posts short and “conversational” this summer. I think 750 words is a good limit. (and I missed that limit yesterday)

Why is it so important to look at property rights and property ownership? Is not self-ownership more fundamental than rights in external resources? Our fine progressive friends would say so in a heartbeat. Self-ownership means nothing if the right to own private property is not respected. Murray Rothbard insisted that all “human rights” are property rights. Hence it is crucial that we have a sound basis for property rights and for its unique property assignment rules.

The libertarian looks to some sort of a Lockean notion of homesteading where an individual appropriating something unowned from nature becomes the owner of the property. The owner of some piece of land is its first user or someone who became the owner through a proper and legal contract and thus owns title. After self-ownership, the second basic axiom of libertarian political theory is original appropriation or homesteading. According to Rothbard:

“It follows then that each person justly owns whatever previously unowned resources he appropriates or ‘mixes his labor with.’ From these twin axioms — self-ownership and ‘homesteading’ — stem the justification for the entire system of property rights titles in a free-market society.”

Professer Hoppe [pdf] provides several important justifications. One is that someone acquiring unowned resources is a necessary condition for all living human beings to be alive at all; to even be alive to argue about it. Even the critics of original appropriation conceded this condition, as they must, since they concede original appropriation by living and arguing. Another argument is that resources are not static bits of matter but components of value-creation arising from human creativity and labor. It is seen that all human beings have a right to their own creations and hence a right to property they create or first use. See Kirzner’s emphasis on this point.

The main question is why is it justified for some person Bob to keep the profit of his discovery while it is unjust for Joe or Sam to get part of Bob’s profit? The most complete answer to this question to this situation appears is given by Professor Hoppe here: “A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism.” An all too short summary of Hoppe’s writing is that property obtained without aggressing upon others is justly obtained. Think that over for a moment. Original appropriation does not involve aggression since the property appropriated is unowned. So the property obtained via original appropriation is justly owned property. For others, usually the State, to take justly owned property forcibly is unjust because it involves aggression.

My final point today is addressed to those who claim that all land was “stolen” by someone at sometime or the other. To that one can only say that if the victim of the crime steps forward and proves that his land or other property was taken by force, fraud, or coercion then he is due restitution. Mostly though we find that the aggressors and victims of any land disputes of centuries ago are all dead now and the points they may have had are moot.


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