Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Geoism, Land, and Space

Something I do when arguing with people that have new ideas is consider under what conditions what they're saying might be true. I'll readily admit that open source software is about as communistic as you can get. But it works flawlessly in the case of open source software, because there isn't any scarcity with information. In a world without scarcity, communism would work perfectly. It works under those conditions. I'm still not a communist.

I'm not a geoist either. However, their reasoning is strong enough to warrant the kind of thinking I mentioned, "Under what conditions would they be right?" Obviously, from my ancapish leaning perspective, they'd be right if land ownership was illegitimate. But under what conditions would land ownership be illegitimate, aside from theft? Then I looked at what we have today.

Land as property is unique. Not because "they're not making it anymore", they are, they're just not making much. It's unique because, in the case of all other property, our title to that property moves with that property. If we treated land the same way we treat any other type of property, property titles to land could be carted around by dumptruck. That's just not how land ownership (presently) works.

What we actually do isn't "owning land". It's "owning space". You don't own the dirt on "your land" except by the fact that it's on your plot, in your space. Likewise, "trespassing" is a charge for being in somebody else's space, even if that trespass does no damage whatsoever to the person trespassed against.

But how can space become property? With all physical property of matter and energy, it becomes property through labor. Space cannot be labored on. Without this, space cannot be owned. If space can't be owned, what is title to space?

It is analogous to intellectual property. It is a claim to own that which is inherently unownable. It's a way to rationalize the use of force against others who've done no damage to you or your legitimate property.

This only takes me as far as to grant geoists that there's something illegitimate about land monopoly. It takes something else to get me to accept the geoist economic rent collection thing, something which so far, I haven't found. But, at least, I'll accept that there is some kind of injustice there, though perhaps not through the specific way they think of it.

I recognize the problems that I've seen geoists bring up that "If all the land on the planet is owned, where am I supposed to live?" But I don't see how the collection of economic rent solves this problem. It preserves the land titles, it just compensates everyone else for the inconvenience of that title, without giving actual land to the non-landowners. At best that'll make it easier to pay rent to to renters, but it won't solve the original problem.

Enter restitutive justice (more and more appearing to me as the means to solve most intra-left-libertarian conflict). If it were recognized by a justice system (I'll assume it's anarchic, as that pushes the limits of unideal circumstances) that ownership of space was not legitimate, but that it was nonetheless claimed and enforced, a debt would be owed to vagrants who were aggressed against under this guise. The debt would cancel between the landowner and vagrant if the vagrant did actual damage to the landowner's property, but if not, the landowner would lose money every time he had to enforce his illegitimate claim. A persistent vagrant would be given, after some time, enough money to likely buy off a part of the landowner's property, and thus come to own it legitimately.

But why go through that hassle? A more streamlined way of doing it would be to cut the justice system out of the way as much as possible, leaving, at most, the possible threat of it's use, and to allow the vagrant to claim some already owned land. A landowner would tend to allow that if they know the courts will rule that way. Naturally this would be technical theft, especially if the land had been improved by labor, and so would create a debt from the vagrant owing to the improver (or whoever had justly aquired the title from that improver), for the amount of the improvements that had been taken over. For instance, if a 10 acre lot had been uniformly invested with $10,000 in improvements (fertilizers, plowing, planting, paving, etc), and a vagrant were to move onto 1 acre and make it his own through his own labor, he would, owe the prior owner $1000 for the pre-existing improvements to the land. Once that debt was paid, it would become the former vagrant's land free and clear.

This is a more self-regulating system. Vagrants won't want to incur more debts than they need, so they won't take more land than they could use, nor would they rationally choose land which had already been improved unless they intended to make use of those improvements, and would probably choose unimproved land to improve on their own to keep in good standing with their neighbors. Nobody would be denied access to land on which to live an independent life to the extent possible. Nobody would be forced into renting. Everybody would have a place where they can do whatever they want to their property without worrying about the conditions imposed by renters.

The only scenario which has come to my mind for which a solution isn't readily apparent to me would be dumping on unowned land. For example, what'd be there to stop people from dumping toxic waste on unclaimed land? Perhaps those who chose to claim an abandoned dump site may be able to find who did it and demand a cleanup?

On a side note, this is analogous to my beliefs on children's rights as well. It may be argued that young kids might not have rights because they have no responsibility, but it would certainly still be a crime for a parent to, for example, have the child's arm amputated for no reason, and the child would have cause of action against the parent authorizing that when the child became mature enough to bring suit. (This is the same line of reasoning that refutes the "social contract" line of the anti-libertarian FAQ.)

I still haven't heard much good critique of this idea, nor seen this idea anywhere else, so I'd love to hear anything you have to say about it. I encourage comments, or contacting me in the other ways listed on the right side of the screen if the discussion should become prolonged.