March 31, 2004

This Land Is Mine

Roderick Long in favour of unencumbered private property rights in land:

Your right to control your own body surely includes the right to control the particles currently composing your body. (You didn’t create them, but then you didn’t create yourself either.) Now most of the particles in your body are not particles you were born with (since if you’re like most of us, your body was much smaller at birth than it is now); instead you gradually incorporated pre-existing particles into your body by eating, drinking, and inhaling. In effect, what you are is mainly a series of improvements you have introduced into this shifting mass of raw material.

But no libertarian would conclude that your exclusive claim to control those particles, once they are in your body, must be limited on the grounds that you did not create the particles. We are embodied beings, and self-ownership is meaningless unless it extends to the materials of which the self is composed.

Now the process by which we acquire external property is simply an extension of the process by which we incorporate material into our bodies. As Wolowski and Levasseur point out, "it is by labor that man impresses his personality upon matter," thus giving rise to property, which is a "prolongation of the faculties of man acting upon external nature" and "participates in the rights of the person whose emanation it is." Our relation to the products of our labour is simply an extension of our relation to our bodies; indeed, our bodies themselves are to a large extent the product of our labour (though the particles composing them are not), just as cultivated land is the product of our labour (though again the particles composing it are not). Not for nothing does Molinari speak of the "production of land."

Thus one cannot consistently affirm self-ownership and yet cite the fact that we have not created land ex nihilo as a reason for denying or moderating property rights in land.