The prime exponent of the traditional labor theory of property argued that the 'property of labor should be able to overbalance the community of land'. Hence, it was labor which would put the difference of value on everything. (Not less than 99% of expenses could in most cases be put on the account of labor.) Now, however miniscule the difference between the original thing and the thing produced may be, it remains an arbitrary, empirical matter what this difference is exactly, and such matters cannot justify absolute positions (in this case that the whole thing would belong to the one who added the labor). But is the difference really something like 99%? Maybe the value of a painting is for 1% or less determined by the material value of the canvas, but with respect to land the situation is rather the other way around in many cases, while no personal labor has been added at all to natural resources. (Natural resources should not be understood here in the narrow sense of industrial materials and capacities, since we shall not stress their possible significance as means of production.) The argument does therefore not support property in natural resources, nor in land, if, and insofar as, it has not been created or improved by labor. One utilitarian adherent of the labor theory 'imself has argued that the 'grounds of property in land are different from those of property in movables', and that 'they are only valid insofar as the proprietor of land is its improver'.

That the labor theory's spirit of speculation is purely doctrinal (instead of metadoctrinal) is evident from the fact that its defenders speak of "the value added to" and "the improvement of the thing acquired". But what is 'value' and what is 'improvement' without a normative doctrine to make this clear? Value and improvement are not objective, descriptive notions like labor itself perhaps. Maybe, someone's labor adds a dis-value, and maybe, land and natural resources no-one has ever worked on are of an incomparable value, especially in densely populated regions or on a densely populated planet. As has been correctly pointed out, the labor theory's principle of desert is a 'double-edged principle: if a benefit is due for adding value, a penalty is due for subtracting value'. In the latter case a person will have to compensate others for 'er labor. In summary: the traditional labor theory may have its merits on the doctrinal level, it does not on that level justify property in land (as a natural element) and, least of all, in natural resources.

Whereas labor theorists have endeavored to defend property in land on doctrinal grounds, many other theorists on property have endeavored to attack property in land on equally doctrinal grounds. But while the proviso that enough be left over may mitigate the labor theorist's proproperty argument, other conditions (or inconsistences) may modify antiproperty arguments. Thus one theorist claiming that the earth belongs to no-one, mentions a set of such conditions to justify the very ownership of land. They are: 'that the land be uninhabited', 'that one take only so much as is necessary for subsistence', and 'that one take possession by labor and not by ceremony'. Rejected are justifications such as fencing, occupation or claims by sovran powers. The theorist in question is actually opposed to the idea of a natural right in property (as being itself a right of self-preservation) and ultimately bases 'er own justification on the 'development of human nature as moral nature'. It is this from which the moral entitlement to the area of land a human being needs for immediate subsistence is derived.

Even speculators on property who have defended an unlimited right of accumulating possessions thru trade and inheritance have admitted that the original appropriation of land has in most cases been a question of force. They, too, have realized that land is another issue than wealth in general, since land is a commodity limited in extent, and since it is from land that the materials have to be derived which are necessary to maintain the conditions for a free life. It has, similarly, been pointed out by a theorist who neither advocated the maintenance nor the abolition of private property in general, that the economic arguments for private property just do not hold with respect to things such as land, because their supply is definitely not increased by passing them into private hands.

It will come as no surprise that those who have denounced private property altogether, have also denounced this sort of property in land. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that landownership is often the greatest evildoer for them. One theorist has said that it is the expropriation of the mass of the people from the soil which forms the basis of a mode of production and accumulation which have for their fundamental criterion the very 'annihilation of self-earned private property' or 'the expropriation of the laborer'. Another theorist has said that undeveloped land should be for the usufruct of everyone, and that no-one may appropriate any portion of it without the consent of all directly interested in its usufruct (nature itself being the fictitious owner). The natural resources of uncultivated lands and waters should, on this view, remain available for the use of anyone who depends on them. The party most seriously injured by wilful waste and hoarding is likely to be a future generation -- it has been argued.

The question of what to do about great discrepancies between moral and legal or cultural property rights is a delicate one which cannot be tackled here; in the first place, because at this stage we do not have a rightful theory of property yet. (Mainly, we have been, and still are, assessing the value and disvalue of arguments for, and the value and disvalue of arguments against, in order to ascertain if, to what extent, and how they can tell us which tools to use in the process of developing our own body of thought.)

One paradigmatic way advocated to change existing conditions of landownership which are believed to be highly inequitable, has been a revolution leading to the establishment of a dictatorship of the proletariat, of a dictatorial one-party system and of universal state-ownership. Another paradigmatic way advocated has been an extensive and profound societal change leading to the establishment of independent communities and the very abolition of the state and all political parties. A third way suggested --less outspoken than the previous two-- is to leave all property to the current owners, but to change the right to transfer or alienate and the right to devise or bequeath. The basic elements of the current landowner's property rights could thus remain unchanged. If no normative justification of 'er title can be given, it could not be passed on anymore to another person or group of persons who do not have an (exclusive) right in the land either.

©MVVM, 41-57 ASWW

Model of Neutral-Inclusivity
Book of Instruments
Things Possessed and Not Possessed