In Moral Defense of
All governments that have existed, exist today, or ever
will exist, do two things: protect men's rights and demand men perform their
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
December 11, 2011