Wednesday, September 3, 2014

How do Property Rights Begin?

Libertarians believe in protecting property rights, but one of the questions that comes up is, "for a given plot of land, how did the first owner come to take possession of the land?" I propose there are 3 requirements for property rights to be valid under natural law.

  1. An individual must claim the property
  2. An individual must do something useful with the property
  3. An individual must be willing to defend the property
Let's see how these 3 premises hold up under a variety of circumstances.

Example 1: Land on the moon, premise 1 without 2 and 3

Let's say I claim that I own land on the moon (1), but I have no way of getting to the moon to use it (2) and no way to defend the land I claim on the moon (3). Do I own the land? No, and it doesn't make sense that I own land on the moon. Simply claiming land does not make it yours.

Example 2: Land on the moon, premise 1 and 3 without 2

Let's say I claim that I own land on the moon (1), and I'm willing to sue anybody who claims otherwise to defend my ownership (3). If somebody else comes along and starts living on my moon-land and mining moon rocks on it. They also claim ownership and are willing to sue. In this case, whom does the land belong to? It belongs to the person who is doing something useful with the property.

Example 3: Land on the moon without premise 1

Let's say I don't claim land on the moon. Under no circumstances is land on the moon mine if I don't claim it.

Example 4: Land on the moon, premise 1 and 2 without 3

Let's say I claim land on the moon, and I'm mining moon rocks. Some moon pirates come along and decide they claim the land and they are willing to fight me for it. If I am unwilling to defend my property in any way at all (peaceful or with force) then I no longer own the property.

Example 5: Land on the moon with all premises

Let's say I claim land on the moon (1). I build a moon-house to live in (2). And I am willing to defend my property either through the international courts or by the use of force against trespassers (3). I own the land and get the protection of property rights to it.

The above examples cover every possible combination of the premises. Let's look at an example of what happens when we apply these premises to a historical situation. When Europeans kicked the native Americans from their land, the native Americans met these requirements for property rights. They may not have understood exactly what property rights were, but the country was roughly segmented into land for the different tribes, they were willing to defend their land, and they were using the land.


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