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A. Tucker's Big Four: Absentee Landlordism
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Anarchist Theory of Organizational Behavior
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Mutualist Political Economy

Chapter Five: The State and Capitalism in the "Laissez-Faire" era.

The nineteenth century is commonly described, alike by paternalistic liberals and social democrats, and by the kinds of vulgar "libertarians" who engage mainly in pro-corporate apologetics, as an age of "laissez-faire." But to use such a term in reference to that period is an utter travesty. We have already seen, in our previous chapter on primitive accumulation, how the capitalism of the nineteenth century reflected the violent reconstruction of society by a statist revolution from above. In addition, it was of the allegedly "laissez-faire" nineteenth century that Benjamin Tucker wrote, when he identified the four great forms of legal privilege on which capitalism, as a statist system of exploitation, depended. We will examine those four privileges, central to the structure of "laissez-faire" capitalism, in this chapter. In addition, we will examine a fifth form of state intervention largely ignored by Tucker, even though it was central to the development of capitalism throughout the nineteenth century: transportation subsidies.

Both state socialists and corporate welfare queens, for nearly identical reasons, have a common interest in maintaining the myth of the laissez-faire nineteenth century. The advocates of the regulatory-welfare state must pretend that the injustices of the capitalist economy result from the unbridled market, rather than from state intervention in the market; otherwise, they could not justify their own power as a remedy. The apologists of big business, on the other hand, must pretend that the regulatory-welfare state was something forced on them by anti-business ideologues, rather than something they themselves played a central role in creating; otherwise their worst fears might be realized, and the interventionist state might actually be pruned back. "Laissez-faire" is, therefore, what Albert Jay Nock called it: an "impostor term."1

The horrors of England's industrial life in the last century furnish a standing brief for addicts of positive intervention. Child-labour and woman-labour in the mills and mines; Coketown and Mr. Bounderby; starvation wages; killing hours; vile and hazardous conditions of labour; coffin ships officered by ruffians--all these are glibly charged off by reformers and publicists to a regime of rugged individualism, unrestrained competition, and laissez-faire. This is an absurdity on its face, for no such regime ever existed in England. They were due to the State's primary intervention whereby the population of England was expropriated from the land; due to the State's removal of land from competition with industry for labour.... Adam Smith's economics are not the economics of individualism; they are the economics of landowners and mill-owners.2


A. Tucker‘s Big Four: The Land Monopoly.

Tucker classified, as one of the four forms of monopoly, the state's enforcement of "land titles which do not rest upon personal occupancy and cultivation."3 A great deal of material that he would have included under this heading has already been treated, instead, as part of our analysis of primitive accumulation in the last chapter. That material will not be duplicated; for purposes of the present chapter, it will suffice to point out that the seizure and monopoly of land by the ruling classes in the early days of capitalism has ongoing effects today.

The primitive accumulation described in the previous chapter was only one example of a general historical phenomenon: as the Georgists Oppenheimer and Nock pointed out, the state has, throughout history, made exploitation possible by politically controlling access to the land. The latter, referring to Wakefield's frank ruling class perspective on the land monopoly, commented that "economic exploitation is impracticable until expropriation from the land has taken place."4 Henry George's brief survey, in Progress and Poverty, of ruling classes' encroachments on the peasantry's land, is a good introduction. Livy's history of the Roman republic, for example, is dominated by the struggle between the plebians and the patrician landlords. The great landed estates of the aristocracy were carved out of the public domain, originally the common property of the entire Roman people.5

The system of land tenure in medieval Europe was established, likewise, by the seizure of land by the feudal ruling classes. By political means, they claimed legal property in the lands already occupied and worked by the peasantry, and compelled them to pay rent on their own land. By political means, likewise, they claimed ownership of vacant lands, and controlled access to it without themselves ever directly occupying or working it. As Adam Smith wrote, "A great part of them was uncultivated; but no part of them, whether cultivated or uncultivated, was left without a proprietor. All of them were engrossed, and the greater part by a few great proprietors." 6

This evil was in the process of being remedied in the late Middle Ages. By means such as tenure in copyhold, western Europe was evolving toward a system in which the peasant was a de facto owner, required to pay only a nominal quit-rent set by custom; after that nominal rent was paid, he could treat the land in practice as his own. Had that system been allowed to develop without violence, Europe today might be a continent of small proprietors. But as we saw in the previous chapter, that was not to be.

This last, however, has already been dealt with. In this chapter we examine statist forms of property in land as a general phenomenon. Although the primitive accumulation already recounted is regarded as unjust by all major libertarian theories of property (at least to the extent that they acknowledge its occurrence), these theories are not by any means agreed on what the proper basis of ownership might be. Our next order of business, therefore, is a comparative survey of the major theories of property in land.

The bare principle of private property in land does not carry with it, of any necessity, any particular set of rules of land tenure. Nozick pointed out that any theory of "justice in holdings" must include three major topics: 1) a theory of "the original acquisition of holdings, the appropriation of unheld things"; 2) "the transfer of holdings from one person to another"; and 3) "principles governing how a person may divest himself of a holding, passing it into an unheld state."7 Or as Tucker put it, "The question is not whether we should be able to sell or acquire in 'the open market' anything which we rightfully possess, but how we come into rightful possession."8 Free market liberals are divided among themselves on how to answer this question.

There are three main rival theories of justice in holdings among free market libertarians--the Lockean, the Georgist, and the mutualist--with Lockeanism predominating. As Bill Orton has characterized their differences, the three schools agree fairly closely on the acquisition of property (i.e, by labor homesteading), but differ considerably on their rules for transfer and abandonment.9 All three schools agree that the only legitimate way of appropriating unowned land is homesteading by direct, personal occupation and alteration of it: as Locke put it, by admixture of labor.

In contradistinction to Lockeans, Georgists and mutualists agree in seeing the land, in some sense, as a common patrimony which cannot be permanently alienated from the commons in fee simple. Both differ from the Lockeans on the extent to which appropriation by admixture of labor permanently removes land from this common patrimony. Both groups view the common rights of mankind to the land as inalienable, and the individual's possessory or usufructory right to be in some sense a stewardship on behalf of the general human community. The Georgists, however, attribute to the community a more active role in exercising its ultimate property rights over the commons than do the mutualists, and treat the community as joint owners of the commons in a more active sense. The mutualists, on the other hand, tend to see unoccupied land simply as an unowned commons over which mankind's ultimate ownership rights are latent, and which the individual is free to use as he sees fit without accounting to any proxy for collective rights; but the latent common right of the rest of mankind prohibits the individual from claiming more land than he can personally use at the expense of the common interest, and requires that his possessory title revert to the commons when he ceases to occupy and use the land. In regard to the theoretical status of land, therefore, mutualists and individualists have more in common with each other than with the Lockeans.

Regarding practical treatment of existing land titles, on the other hand, Georgists and mainstream Lockeans have more in common with each other, and mutualists (and to some extent radical Lockeans) are the odd man out. Mutualists and (among Lockeans) the left-Rothbardians, agree that any current titles to land not established by such labor-appropriation are invalid, and that land held by such title should be regarded as unowned and open to appropriation by the first homesteader to mix his labor with it. Lockeans on the more mainstream libertarian right are more willing to accept existing property titles as valid on conventional or positivistic grounds, in the interest of stability. Georgists regard the injustice by which existing titles were acquired as relatively insignificant; the proper remedy is not to nullify existing land titles but, through community collection of rent, to nullify the unjust benefits of holding such titles. The Georgist remedy of the single tax, to a large extent, presupposes a market in land values that deals with titles and transfers in more or less Lockean terms.

On how land, once acquired by admixture of labor, is to be transferred, and on what constitutes abandonment, the three schools differ radically. The Lockeans believe that land, once justly appropriated from an unowned state, may be given away, sold, or rented by the rightful owner, and that ownership is maintained regardless of whether the original owner retains possession or rents it to another occupant. Given the justice of the existing land title, a new owner may establish legitimate ownership by a simple transfer of title, regardless of whether he personally occupies and uses the land. Direct occupancy and use is necessary only for initial appropriation, not for subsequent transfers of ownership. Georgists, besides agreeing with the Lockeans on initial appropriation, are also generally accepting of Lockean standards of transfer, so long as the principle of community collection of ground rent is followed.

Mutualists, however, advocate a much different standard for establishing ownership during subsequent transfers. For mutualists, occupancy and use is the only legitimate standard for establishing ownership of land, regardless of how many times it has changed hands. An existing owner may transfer ownership by sale or gift; but the new owner may establish legitimate title to the land only by his own occupancy and use. A change in occupancy will amount to a change in ownership. Absentee landlord rent, and exclusion of homesteaders from vacant land by an absentee landlord, are both considered illegitimate by mutualists. The actual occupant is considered the owner of a tract of land, and any attempt to collect rent by a self-styled landlord is regarded as a violent invasion of the possessor's absolute right of property.

None of these alternative sets of rules for property allocation is self-evidently right. No ownership claim can be deduced logically from the principle of self-ownership alone, without the "'overlay' of a property system," or a system of "allocation rules."10 No such system, whether Lockean, Georgist, or Mutualist, can be proved correct. Any proof requires a common set of allocation rules, and a particular set of allocation rules for property can only be established by social consensus, not by deduction from the axiom of self-ownership.11 (However, since all three traditions deduce their theory of appropriation by homesteading from the principle of self-ownership, in so similar a manner, it might be more accurate to say that the labor theory of appropriation common to the different overlays is more plausibly deducible from self-ownership, and less dependent on convention than the rules concerning transfer and abandonment.)

In any case, there is a great deal of practical overlap in their positions. For one thing, the "stickiness" of property is a matter of degree:

In both systems [i.e., "sticky" (Lockean) and "non-sticky" (socialist/usufruct)], in practice there are well-known exceptions. Sticky property systems recognize abandonment and salvage; usufruct allows for people to be absent for some grace period without surrendering property, and of course allows trade. You might even see the two systems as a continuum from high to low threshold for determining what constitutes "abandonment."12

Or as Orton put it elsewhere, stickiness is a matter of degree, rather than a qualitative difference between capitalist and socialist property. They are "the same thing... with different parameters" for the length of time necessary to establish abandonment.13

For another, since the three systems agree on the standard of legitimacy for appropriating unowned property, much existing property is illegitimate from all three perspectives, to the extent that a large portion was acquired by means other than personal use. Murray Rothbard, for example, pointed to the illegitimacy of most historic land appropriation, even by Lockean standards:

How will an individual's title to the nature-given factor be determined? If Columbus lands on a new continent, is it legitimate for him to proclaim all the new continent his own, or even that sector "as far as his eye can see"? Clearly, this would not be the case in the free society that we are postulating. Columbus or Crusoe would have to use the land, to "cultivate" it in some way, before he could be asserted to own it.... If there is more land than can be used by a limited labor supply, then the unused land must simply remain unowned until a first user arrives on the scene. Any attempt to claim a new resource that someone does not use would have to be considered invasive of the property right of whoever the first user will turn out to be.14

Rothbard later argued in Power and Market that land appropriated by a mere grant from the state was a grant of monopoly power analogous to that of a feudal landlord, enabling the holder of the title to charge a tax or rent on the first legitimate appropriator of the land, and force him to pay tribute for the right to occupy it.

Problems and difficulties arise whenever the "first-user, first-owner" principle is not met. In almost all countries, governments have laid claim to ownership of new, unused land. Governments could never own original land on the free market. This act of appropriation by the government already sows the seeds for distortion of market allocations when the land goes into use. Thus, suppose that the government disposes of its unused public lands by selling them at auction to the highest bidder. Since the government has no valid property claim to ownership, neither does the buyer from the government. If the buyer, as often happens, "owns" but does not use or settle the land, then he becomes a land speculator in a pejorative sense. For the true user, when he comes along, is forced either to rent or buy the land from the speculator, who does not have valid title to the area. He cannot have valid title because his title derives from the State, which also did not have valid title in the free-market sense....15

The same was true of feudal appropriation of land in older settled areas:

The affinity of rent and taxation is even closer in the case of "feudal" land grants. Let us postulate a typical case of feudal beginnings: a conquering tribe invades a territory of peasants and sets up a State to rule them. It could levy taxes and support its retinue out of the proceeds. But it could also do something else, and it is important to see that there is no essential difference between the two. It could parcel out all of the land as individual grants of "ownership" to each member of the conquering band. Then, instead of or in addition to one central taxing agency, there would be a series of regional rent collecting agencies. But the consequences would be exactly the same.16

Clearly, the agreed-upon labor standard of appropriation still leaves much to convention: How much labor is required to appropriate how much land? Is it necessary to physically alter or use every square foot in a parcel of land one claims? Can appropriation by labor take place through the hired labor of others, or is it by personal appropriation only? The exclusion of the state from appropriating land through the labor of its "servants" might also, it seems, exclude the indirect appropriation of land by the labor of those in a private capitalist's hire. The labor standard, depending on the strictness of its interpretation, would mean that a housing development belonged to the construction workers who built it, and not to the contractor who bought the land and hired the labor. Even so, the Lockean standard of labor appropriation rules out a great deal of what Jerome Tucille called "land-grabbism, " or climbing a mountain and claiming all the land you can see,17 and goes a long way toward remedying the evils associated by Georgists and mutualists with landlordism as such.

Under a "first-user, first-owner" regime, the Georgists would be wrong in asserting that no labor had been mixed with nature-given land to justify private ownership of sites. For them, land could not be owned unless it were first used and could be originally appropriated for ownership only to the extent that it was so used. The "mixing" of labor with nature may take the form of draining, filling, clearing, paving, or otherwise preparing the site for use. Tilling the soil is only one possible type of use. The use claim to the land could be certified by courts if any dispute over its ownership arose....

....[S]ome of the charges that Georgists have leveled against land speculation are true, not because land speculation is bad per se, but because the speculator came to own the land, not by valid title, but via the government, which originally arrogated title to itself. So now the purchase price (or alternatively, the rent) paid by the would-be user really does become the payment of a tax for permission to use the land....18

According to Mises, large-scale landlordism has always been the result of state-created land monopolies, and not of aggregation of small parcels of land by market processes.

Nowhere and at no time has the large-scale ownership of land come into being through the working of economic forces in the market. It is the result of military and political effort. Founded by violence, it has been upheld by violence and by that alone. As soon as the latifundia are drawn into the sphere of market transactions they begin to crumble, until at last they disappear completely. Neither at their formation or in their maintenance have economic causes operated. The great landed fortunes did not arise through the economic superiority of large-scale ownership, but by violent annexation outside the area of trade.... The non-economic origin of landed fortunes is clearly revealed by the fact that, as a rule, the expropriation by which they have been created in no way alters the manner of production. The old owner remains on the soil under a different legal title and continues to carry on production.19

Although the expression "bourgeois nursery tale" does not appear anywhere in the quote above, the import is just as clear as if it did.

In addition to the three schools' agreement on the moral illegitimacy of much existing property in land, there is also much agreement among them, as well, on the exploitative consequences of statist land appropriation. Oppenheimer argued that the monopoly of land by big landlords contributed to the system of unequal exchange by which all labor was exploited--not just the agricultural laborer or peasant, but the industrial worker as well.

The exchange economy becomes perverted by a compromise with the slave economy. In the "pure economy" no one could dream of appropriating more land than he and his family could till; such appropriation presupposes a slave system. Yet the exchange economy did tolerate great landed property, that economic institution of the political means, as legitimate and on an equal footing with property arising from work personally done. In the hybrid system which combines the transformed feudal system with the exchange economy--this is the definition of capitalism--harmony is distorted by two interrelated effects of great landed (feudal) property: the countryside's purchasing power for urban products is weakened by exploitation and ensuing inefficiency; and the urban labor market is flooded, and wages pressed down, by the slaves or serfs or agricultural workers who escape from pressure into the freedom of the cities. In a harmonious system, where the land is not appropriated, an urban worker would demand and get as much as he could otherwise receive as an independent peasant on free land; in the hybrid structure the wage is pressed down to that of an agricultural serf. This makes urban capital property a means of exploitation alongside great landed property: the propertyless suffers a deduction from his original wage, the product of his work, to the profit of the big owners.20

Rothbard also pointed to the exploitative effect of state land monopoly, which resulted in raising the rents of land in use and lowering wage rates.

Government sale of "its" unused land to speculators, therefore, restricts the use of new land, distorts the allocation of resources, and keeps land out of use that would be employed were it not for the "tax" penalty of paying a purchase price or rent to the speculator. Keeping land out of use raises the marginal value product and the rents of remaining land and lowers the marginal value product of labor, thereby lowering wage rates.21

More specifically, "conservation" laws played a key role in the land monopoly by forcibly withholding resources from the market, and thus raising the price of the resources land-owners did sell. It served exactly the same function as output restrictions in any other kind of monopoly.

Conservation laws, therefore, must also be looked upon as grants of monopolistic privilege. One outstanding example is the American government's policy, since the end of the nineteenth century, of "reserving" vast land tracts of the "public domain"--i.e., the government's land holdings.... Forests, in particular, have been reserved, ostensibly for the purpose of conservation. What is the effect of withholding huge tracts of timberland from production? It is to confer a monopolistic privilege, and therefore a restrictionist price, on competing private lands and on competing timber.22

But that is telling only half the story. In addition to withholding land from production, the state gives favored capitalists preferential access to it. Huge tracts of land are leased to timber, petroleum, mining, and ranching interests, at politically determined rates. For example, most of the devastation of giant redwoods in the Pacific Northwest takes place on land owned by the government, and is only profitable because the lumber companies do not have to buy the land in a competitive market. Likewise, the debate over drilling in ANWAR is not about selling the land to oil companies. It's about giving them preferential access, denied to ordinary citizens, and letting them pay a sweetheart price for the privilege.23

These two aspects, withholding and preferential access, sometimes dovetailed nicely. The main beneficiaries of conservation policy were "the land-grant Western railroads" and existing timber owners. The railroads' land grants had included not only the rights of way for their roads, but fifteen-mile swaths on either side of the line as well. By charging settlers for homesteading rights, including the most desirable commercial properties in the new railroad towns, the railroads obtained a large income from land speculation, in addition to their primary business of actually operating railroads. Government conservation policies further increased the price of the railroads' land holdings, and along with it added even more to their income from land speculation. The value of timber land, likewise, was raised by the withholding of land. The railroad and timber industries, consequently, were large contributors to the conservation movement.24

Besides the sheer injustice involved in statist land theft, and the ongoing exploitation of the producing classes by parasitic landlords, it has been a great drag on progress. This was true of the feudal system of land ownership in the Old World. Property in land not being in the hands of those who worked it, neither the landlord nor the peasant had an incentive for improving it.

It seldom happens that a great proprietor is a great improver... To improve land with profit, like all other commercial projects, requires an exact attention to small savings and small gains of which a man born to a great fortune... is seldom capable. The situation of such a person naturally disposes him to attend to ornament which pleases his fancy than to profit for which he has so little occasion.... He embellishes perhaps four or five hundred acres in the neighbourhood of his house, at ten times the expense which the land is worth after all his improvements; and finds that if he was to improve his whole estate in the same manner, and he has little taste for any other, he would be a bankrupt before he finished the tenth part of it....

But if great improvements are seldom to be expected from great proprietors, they are least of all to be expected when they employ slaves for their workmen.... A person who can acquire no property, can have no other interest but to eat as much, and to labour as little as possible. Whatever work he does beyond what is sufficient to purchase his own maintenance can be squeezed out of him by violence only, and not by any interest of his own.25

Even among peasants not reduced to serfdom or villeinage, who only paid a portion of their produce as rent and kept the rest, the rents reduced the marginal incentive to labor or to improve the land.26 As evidence for these claims, Smith challenged the reader to compare the condition of great estates in the same family for generations, to that of the estates of small proprietors in the same neighborhood.27


We proceed now to a more detailed account of the unique tenets of the mutualist position on land tenure. Tucker's "occupancy and use" standard of ownership was directly influenced by the land theory of J.K. Ingalls in the United States; but its antecedents went back much further--at least to Godwin and Proudhon.

The Ricardian socialist Hodgskin, in The Natural and Artificial Right of Property Contrasted, seemed in many places to identify the natural right with direct cultivation; his distinction bore a striking resemblance to Nock's later distinction between "labour-made" and "law-made" property:28

In all these circumstances which in relation to the right of property may be considered as the leading objects of legislation, I see no particular guarantee or protection of the natural right of property.... To those by whose combined labour the ground is cultivated, and the harvest gathered in, nature gives every sheaf and every stalk which they choose to collect; the law, however, takes almost the whole of it away.29

Never has the law employed any means whatever to protect the property nature bestows on individuals; on the contrary, it is a great system of means devised to appropriate in a peculiar and unjust manner the gifts of nature. It exacts a revenue for the government,--it compels the payment of rent,--it enforces the giving of tithes, but it does not ensure to labour its produce and its reward.30

In contrasting the class nature of the natural and artificial rights, Hodgskin tended to identify the former with the peasant, and the latter with the landlord, in ways that would certainly make a modern libertarian-lite like (say) Milton Friedman nervous: "The right of property, which is now arming the land-owner and the capitalist against the peasant and the artizan, will, in truth, be the one great subject of contention for this and the next generation...."31 He went so far as to describe the state as the organized power of the landowners, and the guarantor of their right to possess the land without actually cultivating it:

Among the legislative classes embodied into, and constituting the government, we must place the landed aristocracy. In fact, the landed aristocracy and the government are one--the latter being nothing more than the organized means of preserving the power and privileges of the former.... His [the landowner's] right to possess the land, not to possess the produce of his own labour, is as admirably protected as can be effected by the law. Another must not even walk on it, and all the wild animals and fruit it bears are said by the law to be his. Nature makes it a condition of man having land, that he must occupy and cultivate it, or it will yield nothing.... The mere landowner is not a labourer, and he never has been even fed but by violating the natural right of property. Patiently and perseveringly, however, has the law endeavoured to maintain his privileges, power, and wealth.32

Still, in fairness, we should add that Hodgskin's position is ambiguous. It is difficult at times, in a country like Britain with so much feudal baggage in its present distribution of land ownership, to distinguish between criticism of the landed aristocracy and criticism of absentee ownership as such, or between taxation and rent. To assume that he identified rent with taxation in all circumstances, as did Tucker, is begging the question.

The passages above do seem to imply, though, that cultivation is an ongoing title to the land and its produce even in the present, and not merely a means of initially appropriating it. But most of the large land-holdings in England at the time fall under the condemnation of Lockeans (especially left-Rothbardians), as well.

Hodgskin cited a very radical version of Locke on the labor theory of appropriation, in language that might suggest to some a fairly literal interpretation of the need to work the land.

He [Locke] says accurately, "as much land as a man tills, plants, and improves, cultivates, and can use, the product of so much is his property."--"This is the measure of property in land, which nature has well set by the extent of man's labour, and the conveniences of life; no man's labour could subdue or appropriate all, not could his enjoyment consume more than a small part, so that it would be impossible in this way to intrench on the right of another, or acquire to himself a property to the injury of his neighbours." Unfortunately, however, this admirable principle has not the smallest influence over legislators in dealing out that which, by the bye, is not theirs, the land of new colonies....

There are many things about the right of property in land... which ought to be deeply meditated by those who... aspire to influence the opinions and the destinies of their fellow men. You must be sensible, for example, that the quantity of land necessary for each individual, according to the principle just quoted from Mr. Locke, must vary with the qualities and situation of the soil with the skill and knowledge of the people; and, in short, with the successive changes in the condition of mankind.... In the multiplication of mankind, improvements in skill and knowledge, as well as in diversities of soil and climate, we find principles which continually modify the appropriation of land, and alter the quantity to which a man can properly devote his labour.33

Shortly thereafter, in a rather dense passage, Hodgskin cast doubt on whether the supervisory labor of a gentleman-farmer with several farms was a sufficient natural title to his property, or whether the size conducive to optimal efficiency of such a large enterprise had any bearing on the size which an individual could appropriate by natural means:

Perhaps you may suppose, that the collecting of many small farms into the hands of one farmer,--a process which for some years was going on in this country [with a little help, as we have seen--K.C.], though it appears now to have stopped,--is an exception to these remarks. I am speaking, however, of the quantity of land from which increasing skill obtains a sufficient quantity of subsistence, and of the decreasing surface to which, as labour becomes skilful, it will be necessarily confined, not of the quantity of land which a capitalist, or farmer, commanding the service of any given number of labourers, finds it at present most convenient to hire. The size farms ought to be of, in the present condition of society, is quite a distinct question from the quantity of land necessary to supply an individual with the means of subsistence, and therefore determining the natural right of property in land....34

Any consequentialist argument concerning the restraint this "natural right of property in land" might exert on the economies of scale can be answered, obviously, with a denial that ownership by "a capitalist," as in "the present condition of society," is the only means by which "any given number of labourers" can combine their efforts in a common enterprise.

But then, Locke was himself ambiguous; he (and especially his Proviso) have been put to much more radical uses than many modern Lockeans would approve.

J.K. Ingalls, probably the strongest direct influence on Tucker's land theory, called for "repealing all laws in regard to land ownership, leaving 'occupancy and use' as it was originally, the only title to land."35 Like the later Georgist Franz Oppenheimer, he saw history in terms of "the courses by which man's natural birthright in the soil has been usurped in every land by a domineering class who, sooner or later, sought the cover of pretended law to sanction unlawful acts, so that they might enjoy quiet possession of dominion obtained by violence."36 Absolute dominion over the land, to the exclusion of the rest of mankind, was possible only through the coercive power of the state, established through "the law of the stronger" or "the rights of the victor"--essentially the same thing described by Oppenheimer as "the political means."37

Ingalls, like Henry George, emphasized the original practice, common to all human societies, of treating land as a communal property to be assigned to individual cultivators only on a usufructory basis. Even under the usurpations of landlords, for most of the state's history, the peasant commune's subjection to the landed aristocracy was still collective. The peasantry continued, in medieval Europe, in Russia, in India, etc., to cultivate the land in common, and to pay tribute to the state or the landlord as a community.38

As described in the Introduction to Part II of this work, the mutualist theory of exploitation emphasizes the role of privilege in restricting labor's access to the means of production, and compelling labor, through the process of unequal exchange, to pay tribute to the owning classes by accepting less than its product as a wage. Ingalls' work on landlordism is an excellent case study of the operation of this principle as it relates specifically to land. Ingalls quoted Adam Smith on the labor-product as the natural wage of labor, in the days before appropriation of land. He contrasted this to Ricardo's subsistence theory of wages, in which the price of labor was determined by the cost of reproduction. The difference between the two, as Ingalls saw it, resulted from the control of land by the landlord rather than the cultivator.39 Or, as we have suggested earlier, Marx's distinction between the price of labor power and the value of the labor-product holds good only after the laboring classes have been deprived of their property in the means of production. The price of labor-power is determined by its reproduction cost, not as an inherent quality of wage-labor, but only where labor is sold in a regime of unequal exchange.

A return on land or capital, as such, could exist only through privilege. Only through the state's legal privileging of the ownership of capital and labor, was it possible for the capitalist or landlord to charge labor a tribute for access to the means of production, and thus to obtain a cumulative increase over time.40 The expansion of capital through the magic of compound interest is not, as the Marxists believe, a property of the market. The natural law of the market is for labor to receive its full product. And although he wrote in a time before the marginalists had fully explained the principle of labor's disutility, Ingalls implicitly assumed the principle. In terms quite similar to our own analysis in Chapter 2, Ingalls contrasted the normal price of a commodity in a free market (a price just sufficient to compensate labor for the disutility of its work), with the monopoly rents accruing to the owners of capital or land without regard to their real costs or disutility in acquiring them:

When a man buys a coat or a dinner, he regards it as of sufficient value to pay its fair price, without any consideration as to whether it will enable him to earn an income without work. And this is true of nearly everything consumed by individual men and their families, or by the world generally. It is only the trader, the banker, or landlord who measures price by the profit, interest, or rent it will exploit.41

In other words, as we stated in Chapter 2, the power to receive a rent on capital or land without earning it through labor can only enter the calculation of "opportunity cost" by which net profit and rent are calculated, only when the state has first made possible such an unearned rent through its enforcement of legal privilege.

Ingalls, like Tucker, devoted a great deal of energy to countering the theories of Henry George. Like Tucker, he minimized the importance of economic rent as such and saw it as a mere side-effect of the general phenomenon of landlord rent--in his words, economic rent "could hardly form a serious difficulty were occupancy made the sole title to land."42 Indeed, he went beyond Tucker in his denial that economic rent would exist without landlordism:

Instead of analyzing rent, he [George] seems to regard it as a mysterious power which creates value independent of labor, and as something which he can tax to any degree without taking from the natural wages of labor; whereas, it is wholly due to exclusive land ownership, as he himself frequently asserts....

According to Ricardo, rent is not an arbitrary tribute levied upon industry by usurped rights, but merely the excess of product, of the best land over the poorest, as the latter shall come into cultivation or other use under the exigencies of increasing population.... While land is under exclusive dominion it [the Ricardian theory of differential rent] may serve in a certain way to explain how the rent rate is determined as between particular lands. But this is by no means the limit of its use by the followers of Ricardo, among whom Mr. George must be included. The inference is always sought to be carried that it also reveals an economic law under which only rent is developed. It assumes that rent does not arise until increase of population forces the use of less productive soils. In fact, the operation is directly the reverse of this.43

Ingalls, in making such a bald assertion, indeed went too far. He virtually admitted as much himself, in conceding that a producer's surplus would exist for owners of superior land even in a regime of occupancy-based ownership: "The man with land of easier tillage, or more productive soil, will be able, doubtless, to obtain the same price for his grain or fruits as the man with poorer soil and shorter crops."44

Still, Ingalls did make a good case for the contention that the evils of differential rent were exacerbated by landlord rent, and partially derived from it. For example, he wrote, absentee landlordism itself compelled the cultivation of marginal land to a degree that would not occur were all vacant land open to cultivation, and thus increased the differential between the best and worst land under cultivation.45

He also pointed out the fact, commonly neglected in the simplified explanations of Ricardo's rent theory, that land was amenable to a number of different uses, and that a parcel of land that was of inferior quality for producing one crop might be of better than average quality for a different crop. The sorting out of land for its most productive use, among a variety of competing uses, would tend to reduce the differential in productivity between sites.46 In addition, the original quality of unimproved land was comparatively less important, by a considerable degree, than the improvements introduced by the labor of the cultivator (e.g., manuring and crop rotation), in determining its fertility. George had argued, in different passages of Progress and Poverty, that increases in population both increased rent by bringing less productive land under cultivation, and made marginal land more productive than before by the application of human labor--two contradictory tendencies.47

These arguments, indeed, robbed the Georgist theory of differential rent of much of its force--but only to the extent that the Georgist theory was based on differences in fertility of soil. But the Georgist treatment of rent concerned not only differences in fertility, but site advantages as well. On producers' surpluses accruing to the occupants of land more favorably situated in relation to its market, Ingalls had little or nothing to say. But even though Ingalls did not directly address this point, absentee landlordism has an effect in this regard as well in promoting differential rent. The rent accruing to land with site advantages is artificially increased by the ability of landlords to keep vacant urban land out of the market. The phenomenon is analogous to the one described above, regarding the withholding of more fertile land from cultivation by absentee landlords, in increasing the differential rent of land in superior locations.

As Tucker stated it, the principle of occupancy tenure required the protection "of all people who desire to cultivate land in the possession of whatever land they cultivate, without distinction between the existing classes of landlords, tenants, and laborers, and the positive refusal of the protecting power to lend its aid to the collection of any rent whatsoever...." This system was to be brought about by the refusal of ordinary people to pay rent or taxes, thus "compel[ling] the State to repeal all the so-called land titles now existing."48

As Bill Orton argued in the quotes above, no "overlay" of land tenure rules can be deduced self-evidently from the right of self-ownership; further, no system of transfer and abandonment rules can be logically derived even from an agreed labor standard of appropriation. We can, however, evaluate the various sets of rules on prudential or consequentialist grounds, insofar as they promote other shared values, or promote results conducive to commonly accepted standards of fairness. In my opinion, the mutualist system of occupancy-and-use tenure has an advantage over both orthodox Lockean and Georgist systems, in the fairness of its operation.

Both the mutualist and Georgist systems, unlike the Lockean system, deal with the unique scarcity of land, characterized by the saying that "they ain't making any more of it"; both deal with the ethical objection to drawing an income from withholding a resource that one did not create with one's own labor. Lockeans sometimes respond that the same argument applies to all the matter one reworks by one's labor, and indeed to the very atoms in the laborer's own body. The problem with this response is that the atoms in raw materials can be renewed and recombined, and (given a long enough time frame) reproduced in response to virtually any level of demand. The same is not true of the available space in a property site (leaving aside quibbles about marsh reclamation, ocean-farming, space colonies, etc.). Put in a more sophisticated form, the argument to land scarcity is not so much that land isn't the creation of human labor, but that available site area is fixed (or virtually fixed) for a particular area. Even given quibbles about marsh reclamation, etc., the supply of site area is extremely inelastic in the face of demand, in comparison to the supply of movable goods.

At the same time, mutualism has an advantage over Georgism in that it recognizes an absolute individual right of property, so long as it is established and maintained only by personal occupancy. The Georgists, in claiming the right to tax increases in land value, claim a right by "the community" to penalize the occupant for the actions of his neighbors, over which he has no control. My neighbors, in claiming the right to tax me for increases in the value of my land resulting from activities they undertook on their own behalf, resemble the men on the make who wash windshields at intersections, and then demand payment for this unsolicited "service."

Besides the inconsistency of this claim with normally accepted notions of fairness, it has additional practical difficulties. For one, it requires some form of coercive apparatus to assess and collect rent on behalf of "the community"--unlike mutualism, which simply requires voluntary associations to defend the occupant in his possession. (In fairness, though, according to the Georgist property rights "overlay," this isn't coercive in the sense of initiating force, because ultimate property rights are located in the community and the community is simply regulating access to its own commons.) In addition, by funding social services out of rent, rather than user fees, Georgism fails to address the irrationalities produced by divorcing cost from price. Georgists are prone to exaggerate the number of public goods or "territorial monopolies"--assuming that any exist at all. It is conducive to economic efficiency that if any service can be funded by user fees, it should be. The cost of the residuum of public goods, assuming there are any, is likely to be of insufficient cost to soak up all the land-rent collected.

Tucker's version of mutualist land tenure leaves some questions open, or at least inadequately answered. Perhaps the most important was raised by "Egoist," in correspondence with Liberty. Egoist pointed out the seeming contradiction between wage labor and occupancy-based ownership: "....if production is carried on in groups, as it now is, who is the legal occupier of the land? The employer, the manager, or the ensemble of those engaged in the co-operative work? The latter appearing the only rational answer...."49 Tucker, unfortunately, did not respond to this particular item in Egoist's letter, and therefore we cannot be sure how he would have dealt with this issue. It is, clearly, something that can be answered only at least as much by local social consensus as by logical deduction from principle.

Another question only partially answered is that of economic rent. Tucker gave little attention to issues of economic rent from superior fertility or site advantage. He believed that absentee landlord rent far outweighed it in importance, and that it could be safely left alone so long as landlordism was abolished.

It was Oppenheimer, ironically a Georgist, who demonstrated why most rent deriving from site and fertility advantage would be relatively insignificant in a system of occupancy and use tenure. Oppenheimer, like Tucker, admitted that rent might accrue to land from advantages in fertility or location, without resulting from any exploitative relationship existing. But while the holders of such land might have to work less for the same income, he believed the forces of the market would still prevent large concentrations of wealth resulting from the holding of superior land. Oppenheimer regarded rent per acre as less important than the total rent accruing to a single owner.

Oppenheimer goes so far as to assert that in a system where unused land is freely accessible, rent cannot survive. Rent-bearing land would be partitioned through inheritance; while land that did not bear rent would remain unpartitioned in the hands of one heir, the other heirs taking new lands. Thus the sizes of properties would be in inverse proportion to their rent capacity, and the smaller a property the more intensively it would be cultivated until rents were eliminated by diminishing returns.50

Still, this is relevant mainly to differential rent based on superior location or fertility of land--not to scarce natural resources like minerals.

As we have seen, arguments for the superiority of one set of property rules over another can be established only on consequentialist grounds (i.e., on the basis of prudential assessments of how they lead to results consistent with commonly accepted ideas of "fairness"), and not deduced from principle. Any decentralized, post-state society, following the collapse of central power, is likely to be a panarchy characterized by a wide variety of local property systems. For them to coexist peacefully, all three property systems must reflect the understanding of their most enlightened proponents. Those favoring each of the property system must be willing to admit that it is not self-evidently true, or at least be willing to acquiesce to the system favored by majority consensus in each particular area.

Bill Orton, who favors Lockean (or "sticky") property, has made some provocative observations on how property metasystems have coexisted in the past, and speculations on how they are likely to do in the future. The three major metasystems we have examined in this section are agreed that aggression is bad. The reason they come into conflict is that they differ greatly in how they define "aggression." Accusations of aggression or initiation of force, according to Orton, result from conflicting property overlays. "Liberty (and initiation of force) is defined in terms of property rights...."51

....(almost) nobody claims to initiate force. When people accuse others of different political persuasions of initiating force, they are using their own property overlay, their own standard of property. Judged from his own property overlay, he is not initiating force at all. E.g., if you favor sticky property, then squatting is a no-no. If you favor possession property, squatting is just fine. The conception of "force" is different, due to the differing system of property.52

In the past, proponents of one or the other metasystem have often been lacking in the forbearance needed to coexist peacefully with other property systems. And today, many libertarian socialists and anarcho-capitalists see the very existence of other property systems as an affront.

Yes, there are some anarcho-socialists who would attack people who use sticky property, and there are some anarcho-capitalists who would attack people who use usufruct property. If you don't believe this last, look back at comments related to aboriginal peoples--you see claims that it's okay to loot their hunting grounds because... they don't have deeds, they don't recognize private ownership of land, etc. But ownership is objective--it doesn't matter if they recognize it. They've either separated it from the [unowned] commons, mixed their labor and personality with it..., or they haven't.53

Saying "all market anarchists" are tolerant of usufruct arrangements is grossly mistaken. People on this very board have "justified" US grabs of Indian land on the basis of arguments like: they didn't recognize sticky property, they didn't officially claim it, so they have no property rights." Other rabid quasi-Randroids deem usufruct "collectivist" arrangements as downright evil, and to be obliterated. Make no mistake, there do exist many intolerant market anarchists.54

Orton expressed hope for peaceful coexistence of property systems, after "separation of property and state":

If ancapistan turned anti-capitalist, I probably wouldn't notice. I believe that without a State capitalism and socialism are harmonious and non-conflicting. Sure, you may call it a syndical or mutual, while I call it a firm with restricted transfer of ownership. You may call it a commune while I call it a household. Whatever.

Of course, hypothesizing that everyone will have the same economic ideology after separation of Econ and State is like saying that everyone will become atheist after separation of Church and State. No, just as there are various religions and denominations and cults with disestablishment, similarly there will be all sorts of economic arrangements with statelessness. There will be more, not fewer, economic experiments, just as the number of religious cults proliferated. Thus, the answer to your question will most likely turn out to be: Move to the next block, or a mile down the road, or simply change the people you deal with.

But the main answer would be: Who cares? The commies look just like capitalists to me. Who cares about the economic school of the guy who grows your potatoes or bakes your bread?55

I've come to the conclusion that both socialists and capitalists would benefit from a stateless society. Even if there is predominance of one form or the other, I think it would be easy and mellow to start a minority enclave. Certainly a damn sight easier than going up against a State! But I seriously doubt that any particular property form will dominate. There'll be every kind of property arrangement that you can imagine, and many more you can't. When religion was disestablished, when it went anarchist, did everyone become an atheist? Did the Catholic Church, or any other church or religion dominate?56

The coexistence of different systems of property in a panarchy would require an agreement by all parties to respect the rules established by majority consensus in each area, along with an arbitration system for disputes:

Now, for the dispute at hand [between syndicalist workers and a dispossessed capitalist], the property theories of the disputants are different, so "who is the aggressor" is at issue. By the usufruct theory, the returning capitalist is the aggressor; by the sticky theory the syndicalist workers are the aggressors. There can be no internal theoretical resolution.

To avoid violence, some kind of moderation or arbitration is almost certainly necessary. The disputants could agree upon a wise arbiter, one without bias for or against either type of property system, to settle the issue. E.g. Wolf De Voon, who has made it clear that he thinks property amounts more or less to what the neighbors will allow. He would probably judge based on local custom and expectations of the parties involved. E.g. If the factory were located in an area where sticky property dominates, where the capitalist had reasonable expectation of sticky ownership, where the local people expect the same, and the syndicalist workers came in from a 'foreign' culture expecting to pull a fast one, then he'd probably judge in favor of the capitalist. OTOH If the factory were located in an area where usufruct dominates, and virtually all the locals expect and act in accordance with usufruct, and the capitalist, representing the 'foreign' culture, was trying to pull a property coup, then he would probably rule in favor of the syndicalist workers.

Neither property system can be proved to be correct. Proof requires agreement on a set of axioms. Capitalists and syndicalists don't agree on the axioms concerning property, so proof is impossible. So it's force or arbitration, and we all know which is better in the long run.57