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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

George vs. Tucker, Part II

I've blogged before on the difference between Tucker's and George's views on land, and why I'm not fully persuaded by the latter. BillG (not Gates) recently (on the LeftLibertarian yahoogroup) stated the differences between the Georgist and the Ingalls-Tucker view of land ownership as succinctly and accurately as I've seen it done.

This is how I am looking at it these days.

Ownership of land includes these five bundled rights:

1. use
2. possession
3. exclusion
4. transferability
5. economic rent

Mutualists don't believe these first four should be alienated so occupancy and use means that absentee land ownership is not allowed.

As a result since all land is now legally occupied but not physically occupied by the owner there would be a hell of a lot of land free to homestead - thus no economic rent at and beyond the margins...a minor problem.

Whereas georgists believe anyone of the four can be alienated and that creates a hell of a lot of economic rent - all of which violates the labor-based property rights of the excluded.

Georgist remedy - share the economic rent, don't change anything else as we all pay property tax and the land value is within the property value...just shift taxation off of capital and onto land values.

Mutualist remedy - require occupancy and use and don't worry about the little amounts of economic rent left over.

Shorter version: the Georgists believe if you collect economic rent, the problems of absentee ownership and political occupation of the land will take care of themselves; the Ingalls-Tucker school believes that if you base ownership on occupancy and use, the economic rent will (mostly) take care of itself.

In addition, running public services on a cost, or user-fee basis, will eliminate the huge portion of economic rent that is produced by externalities like subsidized infrastructure. And the economic decentralization that results from the cost principle will also (by the laws of simple geometry) reduce economic rent: the smaller the community, the more residential property will be within convenient distance of shopping and work, and vice versa.



Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

"Use" does not require obvious physical use. For instance, someone can privately set aside land to act as a nature reserve; this has happened in Madagascar, for instance. Economic rent is not a right so much as something that flows from the rest. And transferability is not essential; it was particularly hard in the mediaeval approach, and persisted until very late in England (consider entailed estates). I have somewhere read an early anarchist pointing out that Georgism allows incomers to squeeze out locals by moving in and so raising the locals' taxes beyond what they could afford (I think the hypothetical example was US immigrants in Peru). Can you remind me of where to find this? I think it iinspired early Zionist proposals.

October 04, 2005 11:02 PM  
Blogger Adam said...

I see two limitations to the Tuckerist approach to land:

1) The "homesteading" requirement includes a value judgement -- that manmade value is superior to natural value (or that natural value does not exist). Maybe that rule will work in a pinch, but it violates the libertarian principle that the social/legal structure can't impose value choices on individuals. Furthermore, to the extent that people disagree about the relative value of the artificial and the natural, this rule will be a source of conflict.

2) The argument that Tucker's rules would make economic rent insignificant becomes weaker every day due to population growth and advances in automation. If small groups of farmers could manage huge farms or huge factories, then the vast majority of people would be in the same situation that they are in now--they would have no direct access to the means of production, and a limited market to sell their labor in: they would be expendable.

October 05, 2005 6:42 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


The vulnerability of first settlers to being driven off their property as newcomers drive up property value is an objection I've made myself. A lot of Geoists, though, suggest either a personal exemption equal to per capita land rent, re-appraising property only at time of sale, or collecting taxes by lien at time of sale.


Either a Lockean or Tuckerite (or Georgist) property system is a set of starting assumptions as to what constitutes legitimate ownership. To those who favor a rival set of rules, any such set of rules is imposing values on dissenting individuals. I'm not sure I understand your second point.

October 05, 2005 5:01 PM  
Blogger Adam said...

I distinguish between social value systems and general (non-social) value systems. Obviously, a person cannot choose and implement his own social value system because it necessarily involves other persons. Each person cannot act on his own conception of "property", or else we would be constantly at war--there needs to be some social consensus.

However, if the value judgement does not involve other persons, there is no need to reach a consensus on its implementation. While any social system necessarily imposes itself on those who disagree with it (as a social system), I would prefer to live in a libertarian social system (one that does not unnecessarily impose value judgements on its members).

Libertarian social systems do not concern themselves with guiding our economic or personal actions--they only concern themselves with the issue of dividing up rights among members of the society. For example, if two individuals have a dispute over who has the rights to a building, we would not ask "who would use this building to advance the cause of Christianity?" Instead, we would find criteria that are independent of the values of the individuals invovled and the use to which the building would be put.

So, to return to the issue of land use, let's assume that there's a particular, special location, such as the top of a very scenic hill, and two individuals each want a different monument to exist at that location. As I understand the Lockean or Tuckerite rules, the person who first modifies the location is the person who gets to decide how the location will be used. That seems fair as long as everyone wants to modify it for use. What if someone wants to keep it in its natural form? What if nature is his preferred "monument"? In that case, how would he claim that location for his own use? It seems that the Lockean or Tuckerite system would discriminate against that person for the very reason that he has a different (non-social) value system than the other members of the society.

A Georgist system would give each of them an equal right to use the land, regardless of how they want to use it.

October 07, 2005 2:04 PM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

Adam, I'm with you on your final argument (remember the Mdagascar nature reserve I mentioned), but you are jumping to an erroneous conclusion. It's difficult but not impossible to use the other methods to reserve the area with no obvious use; the systems have to be extended to count enclosing the land as "using" it. But Georgism does not secure the land, both because it interposes some form of state as taxing authority (and so subject to the sovereign risk that it can change the rules on you), and also because you do not truly "have" the land, but only until someone can interrupt you briefly. But even a brief interruption destroys the continuity and purpose of the reserve. Your open ended tax commitment isn't secure enough wi

October 07, 2005 7:04 PM  
Anonymous BillG said...

Many greens who are georgists struggle with the whole intrinsic vs. extrinsic value of nature question.

Maybe the answer is to employ an ecological zoning structure that would be similir to scientists who have to determine what the sustainable yield of the sky is inorder to develop a Lockean property rights system where we are not all subjected to negative externalities.

October 10, 2005 4:48 AM  

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