Hardly Usufruct

I suspect that most who read “Old Mission Santa Barbara Vandalized” will rush to condemn the damage to the Mission. No doubt there will be calls for the rule of law to be obeyed, and for the rights of others to be kept in mind when expressing opinions.

Although valid, such sentiments are boring and, worse yet, serve as cover to dismiss the message “never forget the lives + land stolen” without due consideration. After all, if these people — these criminals — cannot spell “genocide” correctly, then what are their sentiments worth, really?

In truth, the vandals have a keener sense of justice than most. They are painfully aware that land has been stolen from them, as it has been from almost all peoples.

Dr. Gopal Sreenivasan (Duke University), in his work The Limits of Lockean Property Rights, neatly traces the ethics of private property ownership from first principles through to the doctrine of maker’s right. This doctrine holds that people can only establish original private ownership in some thing if they create it. Since no one created land or natural resources, no one can make a just, original claim to own land privately, when doing so would infringe on the ability of others to do the same.

Theory aside, it is a historical fact that the land held in private ownership today, was first enclosed from the commons by bloodshed or by first occupancy. Neither violence, nor being born before others, justifies private land ownership in the modern day, now that valuable land is scarce.

Although private ownership in land has been the bedrock of the West’s legal and socio-economic systems for centuries, and indeed is a foundation of America’s self-mythology (the American Dream is to own a home), the assumption that land should be owned by individuals is being challenged by a global zeitgeist.

Proponents of the late, great American economist Henry George are building public understanding and political capacity across Europe and the States. Their objective: Implement a just economic system that respects each individual’s natural rights, while simultaneously protecting the environment, and providing a high standard of material living for all.

The holy trinity of growth, sustainability, and equality can be achieved only through one specific economic policy, namely land-value taxation (LVT). A full land-value tax would capture the entire value inherent in land (its location value, excluding the value of buildings and other improvements), which could then be redistributed to each citizen in an equal dividend as a form of universal basic income.

The practical effect of such a policy would be to make land the common ownership of all People, since its value would be equally shared by all. In this way, we may yet realize the Jeffersonian ideal that “The Earth belongs in usufruct to the living.”

Let us rediscover the wisdom of our ancestors, and use it to build a new world.


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