The Corner

Land Can’t Be Private

From a reader:

Jonah,

Watch the knee-jerk there, pal. To condemn private property in land is not to

condemn private property. Rousseau’s point, which was made even more clear by Henry George about a hundred years or so later, was that you can’t just fence off a piece of land, hoist a flag, and declare it yours. If no one was in

California, and I fenced it off and named it after myself, would I then have

the right to charge people to settle on it? C’est ridicule!

The fact is that no one can really “own” land because no one made land.

People do however, improve land all the time. To these improvements people

can claim full rights. There is however, an underlying value in improved

land, the value of the land in its unimproved form. To grant people rights to

that value is, at its heart, anti-capitalist.

Consider the idea of licensing. The government grants licenses to a certain

amount of cabbies in any given city. Because of this, there are less cab

drivers than their would be if there was no required license. This government

imposed quota on the number of cabbies drives profits in the cabbie industry

above what they would be in a purely competitive cabbie market. These excess

profits are what economists call “rent.” The emergence of unlicensed black

market cab drivers in many US cities is an example of entrepreneurs trying to

get a piece of that rent, those excess profits.

The same thing happens with land; the government grants artificial rights to

“own” land the same way it grants artifical rights to drive a cab. Excess

profits again arise, but it’s more difficult for a uh, land-owning black

market to emerge as well.

Keep fighting the good fight.

Sincerely,

a conservative on campus

Recommended

The Latest