by  J.W. Smith


If a person was born with fully developed intelligence, physical ability, and judgment - but without social conditioning - one of the first confusing realities he or she would face is that all land belongs to someone else. Before this person could legally stand, sit, lie down, or sleep, he or she would have to pay whoever owned that piece of land. This can be shown to be absurd by reflecting on the obvious: land, air, and water nurture all life; each living thing requires, and is surely entitled to, living space on this Earth. No person produced any part of it, because it was here when each was born, and its bounty belongs to all.

It was observing title claims in action that earlier economic philosophers were able to deduce that the essential factor in creation of wealth was the appropriation of a useful commodity by one person in unrestricted private title and its alienation from others (Gaffney and Harrison's [Corruption of Economics], p.48). All materials to satisfy human needs come from the land. Over time, the alert realized that if they claimed a piece of land and defended that claim others would have to ask permission and pay for its use:

Wealth would be laid at one's feet and others were doing all the work....The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself as saying "this is mine," and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: "Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody."

Here Jean Jacques Rousseau, in A Discourse on the Origins of Inequality, outlines the injustice of one person having unrestricted ownership of another's living space on this Earth. This practice is only customary; it is part of the social conditioning (protective social control paradigms or belief systems) that all receive while growing up. Being thoroughly conditioned, and having never experienced or imagined anything else, few ever realize that under unrestricted private ownership of land they may not have all their rights. Instead, the possibility of eventually owning one's piece of land is viewed as evidence of full rights. Being conscious of the not-so-distant past when common people did not have even this right, citizens view and celebrate these limited rights as full rights.

Mark Twain wrote an article, Archimedes, in Henry George's paper, The Standard, July 27, 1889, describing how if he owned all the world, all the wealth of the world would be his and all the world's citizens would be his slaves. Appropriation of nature's gifts in unrestricted private title by one means alienation and loss of rights for another. While difficult to visualize when accustomed to unrestricted title to what nature provided free, it is easy to see if one uses a gift of nature that has not yet been appropriated, such as air. Air is one of nature's gifts and if a group could claim title to it (when windmills were invented, such efforts were made to claim title to the wind), each person would have to pay for the right to breathe just as now they have to pay for the right for a place to live. Radio and TV bandwidths are just as much a gift of nature as air. Title to these have been claimed, society has been paid nothing for them, the sums each citizen must pay, direct and indirect, to use a phone, listen to a radio, or watch TV add up to huge profits. The enormous capitalized values of those bandwidths is mute testimony that they are monopolized and the public (the proper owners of those bandwidths) are being grossly overcharged. Just as Henry George pointed out that everyone retains their right to land through a landrent tax covering normal costs of government, radio and TV bandwidths are gifts of nature, unchanged by human labor, and society should receive those rental values and expend them on sustaining efficient social infrastructures such as communications, schools, and roads.

One notes that water was still free long after land was fully claimed. As population density increased and water became scarce, it is now profitable for title claims to drinking water. Water sources will develop high capitalized values, and society will become accustomed to paying dearly for its use. As we analyze the primary monopolies of land, technology, money, and communications, all high capitalized values, in the final analysis, create a charge to the public for exclusive title to, or exclusive use of, a gift of nature.

Back to the Index  -=-=-=-=-  Institute for Economic Democracy