The following was posted in the comments section of “The Constitution’s Fatal Flaw.”
A question that I ponder often is this: can a person really own land? And I don't mean in the sense that we really don't own land outright because if you stop paying property taxes the government will take it away from you. I mean in the more grand scheme of things.
I have chosen to address the question via this separate post.
I have read arguments that suggest that land cannot be owned. There were a couple of feed-backers at The Daily Bell that took this view, although they seemed to build on different foundations. What follows is my thought process, based on my views of property and free-markets.
In order to make some sense of this, I will start with my definitions of two words in your question:
1) Person: could mean an individual, any form of corporate or legal identity, or government / state.
2) Own: the right to control, use, and dispose
First of all, it seems reasonable that all resources (commodities, land, water, etc.) are either in a state of being owned (controlled, used, or disposed of) – or they are in an unclaimed state (un-owned), available for someone to control, use, and dispose. I know of no resources where this isn’t the case. Even the vast oceans fall under the jurisdiction of some entity (person), or are unclaimed. All corners of the universe either fall in this state – or do not. I see no third possibility. I find no reason that land can somehow be uniquely exempt from this.
The “person” doing the controlling, using, or disposing (the owner) could be any of the “types” identified in my definition above. But some entity determines control, use, and disposition of all claimed resources – and all unclaimed resources are available for some entity to claim. The alternative is to say that there are some resources that no entity (person) can decide control, use, and disposition. The next time there is such a void will be the first. This has never been true for land. Above all, the state has laid claim.
If an entity can control, use, and dispose of land – what does it mean to say it isn’t “owned”? What else is there besides control, use and disposition?
There is likely some esoteric legal theory or concept that I have not studied. However, I cannot get past the idea that all resources – including land – have some entity deciding on the control, use, and disposition.
If this entity isn’t an individual (or some private corporate entity made up of several individuals), then it will be the state. But if it is appropriate for the state to have this authority, then it must be appropriate for an individual to have it – the state cannot be given license to act in a manner outside of the authority that the one granting the license has. If an individual cannot own land, he cannot grant this authority to the state.
The more coherent arguments I have read in favor of the idea that land cannot be owned agree that – while not “owned” – the land can be controlled, used, and disposed by some entity (an individual, or whatever). They even suggest that force cannot be used to extract property tax payments from the entity controlling the land (suggesting negative publicity or some other form of non-violent persuasion).
My struggle with this is I don’t know what “owned” means separate from “control, use, and dispose.” If, in my lifetime, I have the right to use the land as I see appropriate, and during my life I am able to sell the right of use to another or upon my death I am able to pass the right of use to my heirs, I don’t really care what you call it. To me, this is the definition of ownership.
And there is no acceptable theory of granting license that suggests an individual can grant license to another to do something which the individual is disallowed from doing. Thus, the state cannot own land if “ownership” is not possible for the individual.
So, to make a long story short, I conclude land can be owned – and owned privately.