Property and Serfdom

The distinguishing characteristic of classical liberalism from other liberalisms is its view of property rights. On the classical liberal account, a distribution of property is just if it is a consequence of just transfer, where transfer is generally just if and only if voluntary or appropriately compensatory for wrongs. As Nozick noted, this unpatterned, “side constraints” view of justice differs from the patterned, “end-state” view of justice found inAnarchy, State, and Utopia Rawls, for whom property should be redistributed as necessary to maximize the position of the “representative least advantaged person.”

Nozick did not address the issue of how property may legitimately be acquired in the first place. Locke believed that just acquisition occurred through “mixing one’s labor” with the earth. Locke also had a famous proviso, that just acquisition must leave “enough and as good” for others, to avoid waste. (However, at one point in the Second Treatise Locke seems to argue that the proviso becomes a dead letter once a society invents money.)

Nozick argues that the initial distribution does not matter, because “liberty upsets patterns.” He makes this point with the famous Wilt Chamberlain example. Imagine a world in which everyone has exactly equal resources. Now suppose that one man, Wilt Chamberlain, is exceptionally talented at basketball. People will come to watch Wilt Chamberlain play basketball and will voluntarily transfer a small sum, say $0.25, to him for this privilege. Very quickly, the old pattern of equality disappears as Wilt Chamberlain accumulates resources. To re-establish that pattern would require undoing the voluntary transfers that people have made to Wilt Chamberlain.

But is Nozick necessarily right that initial distribution doesn’t matter? What about property rights in land? If one person establishes control over a vast range of productive land, then on standard libertarian accounts the owner may require virtually any conditions (s)he might like in exchange for allowing others access to that land. Thus, the landowner may require would-be tenants to yield one-third of the value of their production and perhaps to make themselves available for security duty as well. By enjoying the fruits of others’ labor, the landowner is able to continue in enjoyment of the demesne and pass it down to future generations to do the same.

Are absolute property rights in land a road to serfdom? Or may property rights occasionally be set aside for other interests? If we allow that property rights are not always absolute, does our theory collapse into utilitarianism or egalitarianism, or can we build theoretical terraces on that slippery slope?

Nozick’s own theory has some intellectual resources to address this problem. Nozick adapts the Lockean Proviso to argue that appropriations may be set aside when they literally make others with access to them worse off than they would have been had the resource remained unowned and open-access. “Setting aside” the appropriation presumably means that current distributions may also be altered, perhaps temporarily.

Consider the following two scenarios. The first comes from a debate in Liberty magazine a number of years ago; the second comes from is rather like a discussion I recall from David Friedman’s book The Machinery of Freedom (corrected per David Friedman’s comment below).

Scenario A

Scenario B

You fall from a window of one of the top stories of a tall building. As you hurtle toward certain death, you reach out and grab a flagpole sticking out of another window, breaking your fall. The owner of the flagpole observes you clinging on for dear life and says, “I am the owner of that flagpole; let go!”

Should you let go?

In this scenario, you are the neighbor of a mad scientist who likes to sample the atmosphere around your house and test for the presence of the DNA of other humans. He knows that you and other neighbors will sometimes pass his house or breathe in its general direction, and as a result microscopic molecules containing their DNA float over his property line, invading his property. As an extreme hypochondriac, he cannot bear the thought of this happening.

He issues a decree to the entire neighborhood, including you: No one is to venture outside and exhale, and even exhaling indoors is risky, because the microscopic particles could find their way out of chimneys and other crevices and onto his property. If anyone’s DNA is found on his property, he threatens to defend himself from the trespass by all legitimate means.

Do you have a moral obligation to stop breathing?

Presumably anyone not blinded by ideology will answer “no” to these questions, conceding that property rights are not absolute. In the former case, at the moment of your hanging to the flagpole by dear life, the scheme of private property rights makes you worse off. Thus, by Nozick’s standard, it seems you have the right to expropriate the use of the flagpole until you no longer need it. At that point, let us surmise, the flagpole should revert to its original owner, and you should make compensation for any damages to it. In the second scenario, the mad scientist is engaging in illegitimate expropriation by trying to force other people to stop breathing, which would make them worse off than they would be if the scheme of private property rights did not exist.

This application of the Proviso is attractive because it imports some utilitarian-esque concerns (the scheme of private property rights must make everyone better off than they would be in the primeval world of open-access commons), while retaining the intuitively desirable features of libertarianism, most notably the right to dispose of your property as you see fit under almost all circumstances. Nevertheless, it requires giving up the fiction of absolute property rights and perhaps even opens the door to a kind of universal income guarantee as compensation for the private appropriation of land. Enter the left-libertarianism of Michael Otsuka, Hillel Steiner, Peter Vallentyne, and Philippe Van Parijs.

37 thoughts on “Property and Serfdom

  1. The first scenario is addressed in the old common law formulations of property rights and tort.

    The property owner’s rights against trespass are tempered by the doctrine of (private) necessity. Here’s an adequate description.

    The second scenario is a variation of what Coase explored – the famous hypo where the train emits sparks which can ignite the farmer’s wheat fields. It was also explored from another angle by Calabrese in the seminal Another View of the Cathedral.

  2. The Coase example is apposite. If the madman is so unreasonable that he will accept no offer, then it seems we must conclude, from a utilitarian point of view, that it would be best if everyone stopped breathing outdoors.

  3. Agree re: Coase.

    I guess that leaves us with a court applying one of the four Calabrese/Melamed rules.

  4. Sorry, David! I recapped it from memory, and it’s been a few years since I’ve read the book. Updating now.

  5. There’s been some interesting work on the structural basis of morality (fMRI studies and such). I wonder, assuming the machinery hypothesis is valid, has work been done to attempt to codify human perception of the hierarchy of liberties? e.g. in the flagpole situation, the faller’s right to life is out-weighing the pole owner’s right-to-property.

    IIRC, the fMRI’s are only showing about a 90% congruence among the population, which may help explain the difficulty of politics.

  6. Unfortunately I’m not familiar with that research at all! Linky?

    (Also, I wouldn’t want to let promoting life overrule rights of property in all cases. For instance, suppose that a hugely expensive heart surgery could extend a person’s life by a few years, but she cannot afford to pay for it. May she take the money to pay for it by force? By Nozick’s Proviso, it seems not, because the scheme of private property is nevertheless to her advantage: without it, the heart surgery wouldn’t even be available.)

  7. Jason, what do you think is the status of hard cases like these? Although Mill in a moment of incaution suggested that principles that cannot account for difficult cases are bad principles, perhaps the British common law dictum that 95% is perfection is apt. In other words, if you think that the rules of property are empirical generalizations and thus must, like common law, act as defaults while allowing for exceptions in specially justified cases, can’t we have our cake and eat it too? Can’t we have the presumption in the right direction (respecting private property) while allowing for the possibility of justified exceptions that do not thereby threaten the presumption?

  8. We made it a month on a classical liberal blog without one mention of Rand, but it seems highly appropriate to make her point here: “we don’t live in lifeboats” so we shouldn’t base our political life on such exceptions.

  9. I’m actually tempted to agree with the spirit of Mill’s perhaps incautious statement, if only because we need a way to define what a lifeboat scenario is. For many egalitarian liberals, the fact that a person could enjoy a shorter life due to lack of access to resources is enough to indict the classical liberal system. But should such a case truly fall within the purview of exceptions to the rule? If so, do we then end up with a sharply curtailed domain in which the free play of secure property rights and free exchange is permitted? If it does not count as an exception, why not?

    And then, after all, serfdom did exist. So some of these problems for strict libertarian principles are not all that far-fetched. Since we can build theories that handle these cases perfectly well without succumbing to an egalitarianism that would sharply constrict real freedom, I think we might as well take up the challenge.

  10. Nozick was right that in deciding whether a current distribution is justified depends not on end-state measures (e.g., equality), but rather on how the distribution was achieved. If the trades that led to it were all just, then the distribution is inherently just as well.

    The original distribution does matter, however, for the same reason—how just it was. If the original distribution was a result of a designated class of elites, that own the wealth, and a class of peasants, that do not, then the distributions resulting from that original distribution are less just.

    An interesting question, though, is: if the original distribution is unjust (e.g. it depended on the violation of rights), but at some point just rules for trade were implemented (ones based on rights), does that make the resulting distributions increasingly just as you move away from the original distribution? That is, if 2009 is the “original” distribution date, but just rules are implemented in 2010, does 2020’s distribution become more just? 2030’s more so, and 2040’s even more just?

    1. I TA’ed for Ian Shapiro at Yale, and this was the argument he made against Nozick in his “Moral Foundations of Politics” class. If a distribution is just if and only if it emerged through voluntary transfers (and appropriate compensations for wrongs), then no real-world distribution is just, because the current distribution of property is irrevocably tainted with the legacies of conquests and thefts.

      I think the problem is with the “only if” part. It’s true that in most cases liberty upsets patterns, and that injustices tend to “come out in the wash” after a few generations. However, one big exception is with land tenure, which has been used to perpetuate inequality of both resources and political power in places like Latin America and medieval Europe. So I’m an advocate of land reform in these societies. Another exception might well be systems of slavery that so destroy a people’s social structure as to handicap them for generations to come.

      I also think that an original distribution can be unjust not just because of the use of force in realizing it, but also because of Proviso violations. IIRC, Nozick uses the example of two people in a desert encountering an unowned oasis. One of them runs ahead and claims it for himself and demands that the other sign over all his worldly goods for one drink. He says this would be an unjust appropriation, and I agree.

  11. I think the point that we don’t live in lifeboats is actually quite important. Lifeboat cases are, by design, zero sum, and figuring out what our obligations are to each other in zero-sum situations is very different from figuring out what they are in non-zero- or positive-sum situations, which is the normal condition for the use of property.

    But Jason, I also want to quibble with your claim that these cases show that property rights are not “absolute.” I don’t think that’s the right conclusion. As the popular (Hohfeldian) model of rights indicates, rights are composed of bundles of claims and liberties, and we might think (I’d be inclined to think) that they are absolute, that is, without exception, except that we need to think carefully about what goes in the bundle.

    For example, in the flagpole case, it is patently not the case that the flagpole owner’s property rights to the flagpole cease while you are hanging on it. If they did, you would owe him no compensation for making use of it! In fact, they don’t cease, but neither do they demand that you drop. Instead, they demand that, once you are done with your exigent use, you make him whole by compensating him. (Effectively, you rent the flagpole from him retroactively.) That’s possible only because his property right to the flagpole never ceases.

    I think a similar treatment of the breathing case is called for. There’s no guarantee that exactly what obligations we owe each other as part of rights in property will always be simple or easy to identify. But the dissemination of microscopic particles of DNA arguably is not among them (as opposed, say, to microscopic particles of botulism or anthrax, or radioactive energy). Why? One involves the messy business of exposing others to risk, while the other does not. Property rights are arguably needed for the first, not for the second. They serve a purpose, and those purposes help determine their contents.

    One last point. There was a really interesting article several years ago by Daniel Kiein exploring these issues with respect to our own bodies. Consider, for example, a case in which you have some highly contagious disease, which (if it goes untreated) may infect others willy-nilly. We want to claim that our rights to property begin with our own bodies, but do we want to claim that others have no right to demand treatment before you are allowed out in public? Those, to me, are the hardest of cases to try to think about productively.

  12. I actually very much agree with you Mark! My language there was intentionally loose/wrong, because I wanted to stir up discussion. On this topic, I have said elsewhere:

    “Once you specify the property rights principle correctly, then the rights it acknowledges in a particular case are absolute. For instance, the wrecked seafarers who need shelter have an absolute right to take shelter on land that has previously been appropriated by another. If, knowing their situation, the previous appropriator were to attack them, she would be violating their absolute property rights. In fact, I would say that to claim that any right is not “absolute” is incoherent. There’s always a final trump; otherwise, making judgments would be impossible.”


    “When one conceives of a “property right” in a thing, one is actually conceiving of a cluster of rights to dispose of that thing as one wishes: a right to transfer it, a right to withhold its use from others, a right to use it without violating the rights of others, a right to receive compensation for its loss, etc.

    For instance, it is possible to own some of the rights in a piece of land but not others: the right to use it for recreation, but not for development. Perhaps when you bought the land, the contract stated that the development rights were to reside with the original seller.

    In the same way, it might be that a critical emergency suspends one’s right to withhold use of a necessary object until the emergency has passed, but does not suspend one’s right to compensation for its loss.”

    These are brief excerpts from a 60-page-long discussion-cum-flamewar on this topic on the FSP forum. 🙂

  13. Jason, I wrote a lengthy post, or several, on this subject for the Christlib mailing list years ago. My main points follow. Ownership of real property is not absolute. You can’t own the space inside a set of geographic coordinates on or near the surface of a planet the same way you can own a cigarette lighter. Ownership of Real Property can expire fairly quickly once one has ceased using it. This would almost destroy the idea of investment property. Ownership of real property consists of a bundle of rights which does not include the permanent, or even long term, poisoning of the resources within those geographic coordinates for a couple of reasons. One is that, like the DNA particles, poisons move far too easily across the boundaries between parcels of land. The other is that you can’t own land for the purpose of making it worth less than nothing. My interpretation of Locke’s idea of owning land by mixing one’s labor with it is that you are making it more valuable to yourself by the addition of your labor, therefore the land cannot be taken away from you without taking that value from you by force. You should not be able to make land worth less than nothing by poisoning it and then abandoning it if there are others around that want to use the land for something positive. In this scenario, it is too easy to abandon land for it to be allowable to go about acquiring land just for the purpose of dumping your toxic waste on it and moving on.

    Regardless, thanks for posting this. It tempts me to revisit the subject. I’m sure I could radically alter half my original points if I tried.

  14. Bill – That brings up another question about whether real property might be different somehow from other kinds of property. Of course, a flagpole isn’t real property either. But there might be an issue related to the fact that natural resources are appropriated from nature and not created by human effort. I think that was probably the original intuition behind Locke’s original Proviso – if you’re not using what you’ve appropriated, let someone else put it to good use!

    1. I think there’s something fishy about this distinction. Is petroleum a natural resource because it is appropriated from nature? 150 years ago it was a blight, and nature isn’t responsible for it ceasing to be a blight and becoming a resource. I think this is a point Locke saw pretty clearly, though he got it caught up with a (proto-) labor theory of value. Anyway, he was pretty clear that it is what we do with resources, not the work of nature, that makes them into resources in the first place.

      1. Mark – Fully agree. I was thinking about the case in which these resources are, for some reason, not put to use at all. Or put to the purpose of extending political power over people rather than creating anything of value.

  15. What?! 20 Comments? Sorry I’m late to the party.
    Here. Try this:

    All rights are the creation of men. It is the desire of men to have rights, which creates rights. Rights derive from the relations between men, and the resources available to men. Men give rights, so that they may have them. They are property, which each man possesses to one degree or another. Rights have value. The value of a right is not its formality, but its effect. Each man values each right to one degree or another, according to its effect on his life.

    All rights are by the consent of others. Since the consent of others is always contingent, no right can be absolute or inalienable.

    Each society has available to it, even where it extracts rights from other societies, only so many rights to distribute among its members, and a maximum of the value of those rights. A society with more resources has the potential for more rights. It may have fewer.

    Each right that a person has is a limitation on the rights of others. Each right is a burden on others.

    Rights incur responsibilities. The failure to meet those responsibilities is a cause for the alienation of those rights. The first responsibility is the granting of rights to others, and the acceptance of their burden. The second responsibility is the exercise of those rights. The third responsibility is their enforcement. The fourth responsibility is mercy. Since the responsibility of rights represents a burden, the fifth responsibility is the minimization of that burden, given the maximization of the value of those rights, given the resources available. The sixth responsibility is the education to those rights, and their responsibilities, and their burden.

    The people of a society grant rights for their own benefit. Rights are granted where the effective benefit of those rights is greater than the real burden, and of the responsibilities. Where the people benefit less than the burden, those rights will be discarded.

    The people of a society develop institutions for securing their rights. These institutions formalize the granting of rights, their exercise, and their enforcement. These institutions are themselves granted rights, to the benefit of and at the expense of the people. Such institutions necessarily increase the rights of a few. To such degree as they use force, or are inefficient, they reduce the rights available to the people, and increase the burden of those rights.

    In a society, there is a natural distribution of rights, which depends on the resources available to that society, demanding the least force and incurring the least inefficiency, which maximizes the value of rights available to the people. The institutions chosen by the people need not guarantee that distribution, and indeed may be chosen to impose distributions of rights different from this natural distribution. The additional expense, the loss of rights to a society, will be more than proportional to the deviation from the natural distribution.

    So by consent, the members of a society may make certain rights universal, and held in equal quantity by all, and inalienable except for failure to meet the incurred responsibilities. These certain rights then represent a form of property which cannot be bought or sold. A society may consent to this, at the expense of other rights, that the few more fortunate or more able, shall not otherwise acquire those certain rights of the many less fortunate or less able.

    And by consent a society may make certain rights held by a few, who incur greater responsibilities. It may assign these rights, and those responsibilities, to the few, in various manners. These certain rights then represent a form of property, which may also be bought and sold. A society may consent to this, at the expense of other rights, if the many choose to not effectively exercise themselves those responsibilities these rights incur.

    Properties are rights, and by the consent of others. Therefore, no property is absolute or inalienable. Others consent to properties, so that they may also have properties. Those who consent to have less, do so in the expectation that they may attain more, either in the present, or in the future. Since properties are rights, those with more properties have more rights than those who have fewer. Those with more properties also impose greater burdens on their society, and incur greater responsibilities. Since there is a natural distribution, those with more properties may impose a disproportionately large burden on their society, and incur disproportionately greater responsibilities.

    There will always be those with many rights. There will always be those with few.

    Where many rights are narrowly held, where the many have few, either the few exercise their responsibilities, and impose the lesser burden on society, or they impose the greater burden on society, and the consent of the many is obtained and maintained through fraud and an excess of force. The many may either shake off their burden, or succumb to it. The resources taken to enforce fraud and excess force take away from the rights available to society.

    That distribution of rights which maximizes the value of rights in a society, and minimizes fraud and force, is most just, and most merciful.

    Subject to discussion, of course.

    No rights are absolute. You cannot make them so. It is by the consent of others that you even seek to do so.

    Your shipwrecked mariners have no absolute right. Anyone who has seen, or read, Shogun, which though fiction, realizes this. Those shipwrecked mariners were not well treated.

    My right to hang from a flagpole, to save my life, our society grants out of the desire of each of us, in a similar situation, to have the right to hang from a similar flagpole. We deny the owner of the flagpole the right to dislodge us, and were he to try and succeed, he would be charged with murder. Indeed, he is required to give us a certain right of passage, that we may extricate ourselves from this situation, and go on our way. This is a burden on him. Were he to say “I will not let you in my window, but you must hang on that flagpole until you weaken, fall and die,” he would be charged with murder. Indeed, were I old and decrepit, and could not remove my self from that flagpole, if by sheer luck the end of the flagpole caught my drawers to break my fall, he would be held obligate to allow for my being saved, regardless of how many firemen he had to allow on his property. As for having to pay to rent the flagpole, that is a matter of consent. A law could be passed, saying that anyone who saved their life by clinging to someone else’s flagpole must pay the owner rent.
    No such law has been passed, that I know of.

    And as for that particular mad scientist, he would not be tolerated because we would not want to tolerate him. The rights he demands are at our expense, and we do not wish to pay that expense. This particular issue is already formalized, I believe, in certain air pollution statutes.

    Even the ownership of a cigarette lighter is contingent. I can speak from personal experience.

    1. I think this needs a fuller account of consent (e.g., who is consenting, to what, and how? where does “society” come from?). For instance, this:
      All rights are by the consent of others
      strikes me as a contradiction in terms. If all rights are by consent, then if I impose a right without your consent, that is wrong. But if it is wrong, then it is a violation of your rights (definition of “rights”). But then that is a right that you have prior to consent, so then it is not the case that all rights come from consent.

  16. Can you impose a right? Well, you can lock your 25 year old out of the house. This gives him certain additional ‘rights,’ at the expense of those you had previously consented to give him. I think a more proper way to put it is you can impose circumstances. Someone can put a gun to my head and say, “Vote.” I may still have a right to choose, but I do not (practically) have a right not to choose. As for the man with the gun, what can I say to him? “It is wrong for you to force me to vote. I have the prior right to choose whether or not to vote!”

    So as for what is wrong, that too is a matter of consent, or if you will, agreement. We might like for some things to be absolute. We might like there to be an absolute prohibition against murder. The best we can agree to do is to make the circumstances where it is allowed extreme and unlikely. There does not seem to be a biological imperative against it. The inclination not to murder seems to be largely, though probably not entirely, a matter a conditioning.

    On the other hand, there seems to be a biological predisposition to want certain rights. Among these seems to be the right not to be murdered out of hand. Since I want this right, I grant this right.

    Similarly, we live in a society where we, each of us, or enough of us anyway, do not have the desire to have people point guns at our heads to force us to vote. We do not consent to this. Because we, each of us, do not consent to this, we consider it wrong, and a violation of our rights, in particular the right to choose whether or not to vote.

    As for the right to choose whether or not to vote, that is obviously a matter of consent, prior consent, if you will.

  17. What if you want a right not to be murdered, and I do not consent to your right not to be murdered? Is it OK for me to murder you?

  18. The way I look at it, a person does not have a right to not be murdered. A person only has the right to defend themself and to enlist others in their mutual self-defense. This mutual self-defense can take the form of an agreement among a group to enforce certain procedures when anyone in the area controlled by the group fails to abide by the agreement.

    For example, if someone who is not a member of the group enters the jurisdiction of the group and tries to murder someone covered by the agreement, it does not matter whether the outsider agrees to the procedure or not. They are subject to the procedure by virtue of the greater power of the group.

    Now if you want to talk about moral law, that’s different.


    1. Bill

      If that is all you agree to, then that is all you have the right to expect. But a careful reading of your statement suggests to me that what it actually says is all that you really have now. Except now you also have retribution, should the outsider succeed. And the outsider would be an ‘outlaw,’ anyone who did not consent to not killing members of your group, a group which now consists of the residents of the country you live in. And this is all by mutual agreement, mutual consent.

      My argument is not that you have, in principle, some right not to be murdered, or some right to vote, or hang from a flagpole, or some principled right to self-determination or property. Quite the opposite. My claim is that my original post is a description of the way rights are. Necessarily. This description may not be correct. Details may be off. Consent may no be the best word. Or rights, as they are, may be completely different. They may be absolute, and may come from some- creator. They may be derivable from axioms. I say they are merely by mutual agreement, mutual consent.

    2. Now if you want to talk about moral law, that’s different.

      Bill – That’s all I’ve been talking about here. 😉

  19. Tell the judge you withdraw your consent not to kill people. Say, “I’m going to go around killing people, and I just proved it.”
    Of course, you’ll be in chains, since you probably will not have ‘consented’ to be judged, either. But the very fact that you’re still alive, and not suicide by cop, implies a measure of consent.

    And you give rights to get rights. Do you want to live in a society of people who have not given consent not to kill each other, who instead see killing each other as a right? Or would rather concede that particular right, and get the right not to be killed.

    As for me personally, I am glad for the police and the judges, but most importantly, I am glad that everyone around me has consented not to go around killing people. And I consent to this.

  20. @Charles: There does not seem to be a biological imperative against it.

    Actually there does, when studied under fMRI reactions to these situations are common amongst humans and other apes, and appear to be structural in nature. Sorry to be repetitive of my first comment, but as people realize that morality is innate in normal humans (primary psychopaths excepted) and asocial behaviors are learned, the debates about societies and governments will be transformed. Granted, our current systems of government are based on the Original-Sin fallacy.

    1. I agree there exists a biological (perhaps the term organic makes the distinction clearer) inclination toward moral behavior. Indeed, I think most criminal behavior is not so much regarded as amoral or ‘anti-moral’ by the perpetrator, but rather based on a moral hierarchy (hierarchy of rights?) different from that of the rest of society. Most criminals, on some level, imagine themselves justified in their behavior. Those criminals who become socialized do not suddenly acquire a moral sense, where before they had none. They merely consent to the moral hierarachy of their society. Of course, I haven’t seen the study…

      I don’t think this detracts from my thesis. It merely implies that it will be easier, and more likely, for groups of people to reach mutual consent on priorities of rights and properties. Or to put it another way, to agree on a hierarchy of rights.

      This does not specify what that hierarchy of rights would, or should be. We have seen that some hierarchies lead to prosperity, and some do not. Is that the issue?

      And I do not mean to imply ahistorical processes to that consent. Through the ages, many have been conditioned to, and so consented to, hierarchies we would find distasteful.

  21. Jason wrote:

    “Locke believed that just acquisition occurred through “mixing one’s labor” with the earth. Locke also had a famous proviso, that just acquisition must leave “enough and as good” for others, to avoid waste. (However, at one point in the Second Treatise Locke seems to argue that the proviso becomes a dead letter once a society invents money.)”

    Locke actually had two specific provisos:

    1. in section 33 – the “sufficiency proviso” – leaving “enough and as good in common for others”.

    2. in section 31 – the “spoilage proviso” – taking only what you can use before spoiling.

    In section 46 he claims that the invention and use of money makes the “spoilage proviso” a dead letter not the “sufficiency proviso”.

    1. BillG – Thanks for that insight. I had never thought of that reading before, and it does make Locke’s argument more compelling. It was never clear to me why spoilage was the main rationale for leaving enough and as good for others.

  22. Essentially the “spoilage proviso” made it not a violation of property rights of farmers for “gleaners” to come onto private property and take the produce that had been left to rot in the field.

    Don’t forgot the “enough and as good IN COMMON” part…

    Locke thought that everything started out owned in common as an individual equal access opportunity right.

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