"The assumption that the moral case for capitalism rests upon is that man must produce to live. If this assumption changed, logically, the conclusions based upon this assumption must change." Amber Pawlik



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In Moral Defense of Geolibertarianism

All governments that have existed, exist today, or ever will exist, do two things: protect men's rights and demand men perform their duties.

A "right" is something to which men are entitled; a "duty" is something to which they are obliged. It is impossible to determine what men should have a right to and what they should have a duty to by studying politics. This is answered in the study of ethics. All political systems are thus designed around a system of ethics.

Socialists, for example, believe that a person has a right to an education, health care, or many other things. Morally, the socialist feels that men have a right to these things. Subsequently, he also thinks it is the duty of those who produce that wealth to give it to their fellow men.

Another example is advocates of civil rights. Civil rights activists find it immoral to judge a person by their skin color. Their code of ethics dictates that a person has a right to a job without being discriminated against. They subsequently feel it is the duty of the business owner to hire minorities.

These people may or may not be consciously aware of their ethical system or why they believe in the ethics they have chosen. However, their political conclusions are a product of what they find right and wrong.

Objectivism proudly and consciously advocates the ethical system upholding its political beliefs. Objectivism does not start by looking first at politics but at ethics. And when looking at ethics, it does not start by looking at ethics but at reality. Ayn Rand, the founder of Objectivism, first asks the question: Why does man need a code of ethics in the first place? The answer is: so he can live his life.

Without going too far into it (please see Miss Rand’s work on this), the reason for the need of ethics is because man, unlike an inanimate object, must make choices. The right choices will lead him to success and prosperity. The wrong ones will lead to death and destruction.

Thus, the fundamental right that Objectivism advocates is a person's right to life. The fundamental duty that Objectivism advocates is a person's duty to respect others’ right to life.

Man's right to life dictates that he be allowed to live in the objective method in which he must. Given this, the next step is to ask: How does man live? What is the objective, i.e. unalterable, method in which man survives?

To live, man must use his mind. Specifically, he must use his mind’s application, production, which is taking the materials around him and rearranging them for his use.

It is based upon this metaphysical fact, that man must use his mind to live, that man thus has a right to his mind. Subsequently, he also has a right to his mind's practical application: the wealth he creates. It is based on these two things—that man has a right to life and the objective way in which man must live—that man's political rights within Objectivism are determined.

The proper government thus is one that enforces this ethical code. A proper government enforces men's right to life and their duty to respect others. Given the metaphysical nature of how men live, this means the proper government protects individual rights. Given men’s only duty is to respect other's right to life, a government thus punishes those people who infringe upon this right. A person’s only duty is a negative: to not initiate force upon one’s neighbors. This governmental system is the system of capitalism.

Notice that under this happy system, based upon the premise that all man must acquire to live must be produced, unfettered rational selfishness is permissible. At no point would your selfishness harm another person. When you go to work and make $5, you don’t have to steal $5 to get it. Given men must produce to live, and production is limitless, a person can produce as much as they want without subsequently harming their neighbor. Men, thus, can pursue their happiness as aggressively as they want.

The assumption that the moral case for capitalism rests upon is that man must produce to live. If this assumption changed, logically, the conclusions based upon this assumption must change.

Not all that man needs to live must be produced by his own effort. One such good is Oxygen. Another such good, and the focus of this book, is land. Both Oxygen and land have one thing in common: they are not products of man's mind or effort.

Imagine a world where the metaphysical fact that men must produce to live was completely altered. Imagine a person did not have to produce to live, but rather all that they needed fell out of the sky.

In this Garden of Eden, there are, let's say, 500 units of what is needed in a Garden of 50 people. Based on the same ethical base of Objectivism, which is that man has a right to life, what would be the proper moral law in such a land?

If someone were blindly selfish in this scenario, it is not such that he would not harm his neighbors. If one person took all 500 units, he would do so to the detriment of someone else. If all were uninhibitedly selfish in this society, who got what would come down to fist-fights and brawls.

Some other system would have to be designed. Intervention would be required to maintain peace. It is possible that all units would be split equally. It is also possible that some men, having different needs than others, would be given more units.

Happily, we do not live in such an environment, which, to be sure, would be a nightmare. However, there are such metaphysically-given forms of wealth. It is important for all political system designers to make the divide between metaphysically-given wealth (“gifts of nature”) and man-made wealth.

Many people make no such distinction and err on the side that all wealth is simply free to all. They completely negate the source of cars, computers, houses, universities, health care, etc., and assume they must fall out of the sky, thus they have a natural right to these things. They are wrong. These things are produced by men. The men who produced them own them. They can sell them, at will, to whomever they want.

However, not all wealth is man-made. Land is a form of wealth which is metaphysically-given. It was given to all as a free gift of nature. Land is very similar in this respect to Oxygen. Land, however, has been subject to traditional modes of private property ownership while Oxygen has not. Imagine, however, that Oxygen were to be owned as private property.

Under the name of private ownership, a young ambitious engineer was able to bottle up all of the Oxygen in the world. His technology allowed him to get to the Oxygen first, thus, he gets to own it. He owns it and now he is going to sell it on the free-market.

Instead of walking outside from now on to take in a fresh of breath air, you are going to have to pay for Oxygen. You don't have the right to Oxygen; you only have the right to earn Oxygen.

This should strike any rational person as immoral. If it were the case that someone was allowed to hoard all Oxygen and sell it, it would be such that the hoarder is trampling on other people’s right to life. By taking all the Oxygen in the world and then selling it, one is damning any person who cannot afford it to death, similar to the man in the Garden of Eden who took all 500 units.

Oxygen should not be subject to traditional private ownership. The objective method in which one attains Oxygen is by merely stepping outside to breathe it. Oxygen does not have to be produced the way that food, cars, or clothes, must be produced. Based on man's right to life and the objective method in which Oxygen is acquired, man thus has a right to Oxygen.

However, this does not mean that, like the entrepreneur, any man can hoard all of the Oxygen. One also has the duty to respect others' right to life. A person must let others have this same right to Oxygen. The political system in place is easy to design based on these rights. It merely dictates that a person is forbidden to claim private ownership of a disproportionately high amount of Oxygen which would cause damage to their neighbors.

Land, like Oxygen, is also a metaphysically-given good. No one has to produce land; it is immediately available to humans. Land, like Oxygen, also has immediate worth to all human beings (unlike iron, coal, or other free gifts of nature which do not have immediate worth to man; these will be discussed later). It is true that some effort is required to make land inhabitable. But even the most rugged terrain will have value to a person if all he needs is a place to live. A person will desire land from the day they are born, regardless of the human production put on it, as they need some place to be.

To draw out this point, imagine the entire world were inhabited. Imagine the entire globe was already occupied—both land and sea. Where would you, a latecomer, go? You can go nowhere, you would be a trespasser. Land, any land, be it totally uncultivated, would be valuable to you. Land's primary value is space.

Because of the nature of land, it is similar in every relevant respect to Oxygen. Land is a good such that if one person were to take and privately own more than their equitable share, like the engineer who hoarded all of the Oxygen, they would subsequently harm their neighbor.

Indeed, a person with a land monopoly directly harms other people. The person with the land monopoly is denying another person's right to even exist. Taken to its logical extreme, the traditional private ownership of land, i.e. the "first come first serve" philosophy in which, when a person buys a piece of land they hold exclusive rights to that land without further payment, could be such that one person or one million people privately owned all of the land in the world.

Given this scenario, it is entirely possible that the first landowner will either rent out or sell the land that he lives on to the latecomer. The rent or fee that the latecomer would pay would be such that the first comer got to a piece of land first and is forcing the latecomer to pay for that land. The first comer didn't make anything; he only took something and is making a profit off of it. Indeed, he is no longer "making" a profit; he is taking a profit. The land owner receives a welfare check. He is receiving something for nothing. If one finds it immoral to receive unearned profits, one should find the pennies filling up the first comer’s pockets to be taken unethically.

Given the nature of land, in that it is not a product of man's mind, traditional private ownership should not be applied to it. The political application of distributing land in an equitable fashion is not as easy as the distribution of Oxygen. It can, however, be done without the use of physical coercion.

Geolibertarianism does not advocate the forcible distribution of land. In order for land to be distributed fairly, the only fundamental difference is in how a person will pay for land. With the "first come first serve" philosophy (Neolibertariansim), land is paid for all up front to a previous owner. Under Geolibertarianism, land is paid for continuously for as long as one stays on the land. The profits would go to the "community," that is, the government.

To understand a typical Geolibertarian transaction, imagine that you own a house on a plot of land. While on the house, a market analysis would determine the market value of the land that you lived on. It would completely discard the value of the house on the land or any other improvements made to the land. Note that typical house value assessments separate out the land value from the house value. Geolibertarianism would only account for the land value. This market analysis would determine the rent you owe for the land. It is similar to a property tax except that you would never be taxed more for the improvement you made to the land.

After determining the tax, you, the landowner, will pay that tax for as long as you live on the land. When you wanted to move off of your land, you would sell your house to a new owner. The new owner would then pick up the tax on your land. Wherever you ended up moving to next, you would simply pick up the tax for that house on that plot of land and, again, pay for it for as long as you live on it.

Geolibertarianism is not socialism. Socialism is defined in one of two ways 1) People are given things based on need or 2) The government controls the production and distribution of wealth.

Geolibertarianism is not the first definition. As just previously described, people do not get land based on need. Land would still end up in those hands who could afford it.

And Geolibertarianism can't be the second definition. There is no production of land. No one opens a factory and starts an assembly line of land. Thus the government cannot control the production of land. And, as noted above, the government also would not control the distribution of land. The distribution of land is entirely based upon people's voluntary decisions and their ability to pay for land for as long as they live on it.

Geolibertarianism is also not the destruction of private property. Private property means you have the right to do what you will with what you own. Under Geolibertarianism, if you are paying your tax on your land, you own it. You have the right to do what you will on your land, and forbid people to come on your land if you want.

The government's only role in Geolibertarianism is to take in the profits off of the selling of land. The only difference between Geolibertarianism and what we do now is in terms of how land is funded and thus who is able to profit off of land.

The "land question" is not a capitalist versus socialist issue. The land question is a Neolibertarian versus Geolibertarian issue.

As such, I would submit that the current moral case given for capitalism, which is that man has a right to his mind and what his mind can produce, is not sufficient for the moral case for traditional private land ownership. A moral case for Neolibertariansim would have to be developed.

Amber Pawlik
December 11, 2011


A Moral Case for Geolibertarianism
Amber Pawlik
This book gives a moral case for Geolibertarianim. Although this position is not the explicit Objectivist (the philosophy of Ayn Rand) position, the moral case for Geolibertarianism in this book builds from the ethics and politics of Objectivism. This book argues that Geolibertarianism is the ethical position because land, an invaluable and finite good that cannot be produced, is different from other goods on the market. In addition, this book shows that the Geolibertarian land tax provides an elegant solution to a difficult political problem: how to fund a capitalistic government. Perhaps most importantly, it provides one solution to an inevitable political problem: a growing population with a finite amount of land; a problem that Europe has succumbed to. In less than 30 pages, this book will make you check your premises!

This article is protected under the US Copyright Act of 1976. No part may be copied.

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