Monday, February 12, 2007

The Trouble With "Geolibertarianism"

Political ideology often splits itself up into a large amount of sub-categories, and sub-categories of sub-categories. Libertarianism is not immune to this. Libertarianism as a term in itself is used to describe quite a wide variety of sub-groups. Among these self-distinguishing sub-groups are the "geolibertarians". What exactly is a geolibertarian? According to wikipedia, "geolibertarianism holds that all land is owned in common by society, and therefore if individuals claim the land as their property they must pay rent to the community for doing so". It is a philosophical descendant of Georgism. At the heart of this ideology is the contention that either noone can own the land, or everyone owns the land equally. The latter contention would be land communalism. The former would be a denial of any property right in land in any way at all, while mysteriously this claim is used as a rationale for communalizing land.

Geolibertarians claim that despite their distinguishing position on land ownership, they retain all private property rights. But how can this possibly be so in practise? The geolibertarian may very well personally oppose just about anything standing in the way of voluntary exchange of property in every area but land, but the actual effects that would ensue if their desired land system were put into place are entirely different from their vision. All of the other private property that they claim to maintain must inevitably go down the tubes if there is no ownership of the land in which that property is produced on and hence the resources that the land provides us with. If there is no personal ownership of the land, then it logically follows that there is no ownership of the resources that come from it. Of course, all of the resources necessary to produce private property are a product of the land.

If a person does not own the land within the jurisdiction of their home, then they do not own their home or any of the property within it. If a farmer does not own the land within the jurisdiction of their farm, then they do not own the crops, animals or machines within it. If a buisiness-owner does not own the land within the jurisdiction of their buisiness, then they do not own their buisiness or any of the capital it produces. The entire "free market half" of libertarianism, if you will, entirely crumbles with geolibertarianism. Without land ownership, noone could own a guitar, dinner table, or baseball bat since they came from wood that came from the land. Noone could own any bananas, cabbages or potatoes since they came from the land. Noone could own any cotton products (such as clothing), since the cotton came from the land.

The question of land ownership precedes market exchange in many ways. It is a fundamental that is necessary for a genuine market to arise. The land itself is what presents us with our resources, and hence it is also what presents us with scarcity. Scarcity is the main economic factor that makes communalism of any sort, including land communalism, a utopian fantasy that merely reduces everyone's access to resources in practise. The view of land communalism doesn't aknowledge any validity to homesteading. It does not recognize that someone can transform previously unused/unowned land by making it into something new, through their labor or in payment for the labor of others to produce it for you. To harken to a simplistic scenario, when Crusoe has built himself a home out of wood on the island, the land within the jurisdiction of that home becomes his property because he transformed it, and hence now owns it as expressed through his exercise of control over it. Without any homesteading of the land in the first place (without the preceding homesteading of land by Crusoes, if you will) there would be no way to establish market exchange for homes, since there would be no owners of the land to initially sell to others.

Land is in a state of non-ownership until it is homesteaded in some way. Market exchange starts to take place after some land has been homesteaded already. Once there is some homesteaded land to exchange, we form the basis of the more common and modern method of obtaining home ownership - by either voluntarily exchanging money for possession of the home, or paying rent to the owner of the home. Geolibertarians would not only claim that there is no way to justify renting out a home to people, but the logical consequence of their own ideology would inevitably lead to opposition to exchanging for home ownership as well, because if they don't recognize the validity of the owner's ownership over the land, they therefore don't recognize the validity of someone else exchanging money to that owner in order to transfer ownership to themself.

In his classic book "For A New Liberty", Murray Rothbard clarifies this matter quite well:

"If every man owns his own person and therefore his own labor, and if by extension he owns whatever property he has "created" or gathered out of the previously unused, unowned, "state of nature," then what of the last great question: the right to own or control the earth itself? In short, if the gatherer has the right to own the acorns or berries he picks, or the farmer the right to own his crop of wheat or peaches, who has the right to own the land on which these things have grown? It is at this point that Henry George and his followers, who have gone all the way so far with the libertarians, leave the track and deny the individual's right to own the piece of land itself, the ground on which these activities have taken place. The Georgists argue that, while every man should own the goods which he produces or creates, since Nature or God created the land itself, no individual has the right to assume ownership of that land. Yet, if the land is to be used at all as a resource in any sort of efficient manner, it must be owned or controlled by someone or some group, and we are again faced with our three alternatives: either the land belongs to the first user, the man who first brings it into pro­duction; or it belongs to a group of others; or it belongs to the world as a whole, with every individual owning a quotal part of every acre of land. George's option for the last solution hardly solves his moral problem: If the land itself should belong to God or Nature, then why as it more moral for every acre in the world to be owned by the world as a whole, than to concede individual ownership? In practice, again, it is obviously impossible for every person in the world to exercise effective ownership of his four-billionth portion (if the world population is, say, four billion) of every piece of the world's land surface. In practice, of course, a small oligarchy would do the controlling and owning, and not the world as a whole.

But apart from these difficulties in the Georgist position, the natural-rights justification for the ownership of ground land is the same as the justification for the original ownership of all other property. For, as we have seen, no producer really "creates" matter; he takes nature-given matter and transforms it by his labor energy in accordance with his ideas and vision. But this is precisely what the pioneer—the "home­steader"—does when he brings previously unused land into his own private ownership. Just as the man who makes steel out of iron ore transforms that ore out of his know-how and with his energy, and just as the man who takes the iron out of the ground does the same, so does the homesteader who clears, fences, cultivates, or builds upon the land. The homesteader, too, has transformed the character of the nature-given soil by his labor and his personality. The homesteader is just as legitimately the owner of the property as the sculptor or the manufac­turer; he is just as much a "producer" as the others."

Rothbard goes on:

"Furthermore, if the original land is nature- or God-given then so are the people's talents, health, and beauty. And just as all these attributes are given to specific individuals and not to "society," so then are land and natural resources. All of these resources are given to individuals and not to "society," which is an abstraction that does not actually exist. There is no existing entity called "society"; there are only interact­ing individuals. To say that "society" should own land or any other property in common, then, must mean that a group of oligarchs—in practice, government bureaucrats—should own the property, and at the expense of expropriating the creator or the homesteader who had origi­nally brought this product into existence."

If the geolibertarians are to take themselves seriously, and function in a system that still has rental of land, then they inevitably must support rent control, since they consider all land rental to be inherently exploitive and thus unjust (sound kind of Marxist to you?). Rent control (which, for the most part, just freezes rents in place in practise), of course, is a dangerous economic intervention by the government that creates a shortage in the supply. It would make sense that a geolibertarian would wish to diminish the supply of homes available for people to obtain ownership over, since those titles to home ownership rely on ownership of the land in which the homes rest on, which our geolibertarian friends vehemently reject.

Why geolibertarianism tries to put itself foreward as remainingly staunchly libertarian is mystifying. It is land communism, and land communism is the first step taken in any transformation towards communism (I.E. the state confiscates land ownership and claims all land as to be "public domain", while of course it is now the legal "owner" of all land in practise, while everyone else maintains ownership in name only). Geolibertarianism, in practise, is advocacy of transfering all land ownership into the "public domain", and if all land ownership is in the public domain, then no genuine private ownership of all of the property that comes from the land (which is all of it) can exist. When Soviet Russia had the entire agricultural industry in the "public domain", this was an inevitable result of the nullification of all property rights in the land in which the agricultural goods and services derived from. Geolibertarians are argueing for just this, as it applies to all land. Therefore they can scarcely be considered libertarian, at least in the economic domain - and in practise, a geolibertarian government would not be distinguishable from a communist one (even if the geolibertarians genuinely oppose the consequences of their own ideology). They may think themselves as supporters of market exchange, but they reject the very fundament necessary for market exchange to exist.

According to libertarian philosophy, it is government that constitutes the genuine exploitive class. Georgist philosophy replaces government as the exploiter with land owners as exploiter.

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