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comment on Roderick Long’s “POOTMOP” Redux

Stephan Kinsella on June 22, 2009 at 4:42 pm

Roderick, I responded to a similar issue here. I use anarcho-libertarian myself. I agree there are some ambiguities in these terms. I am skeptical of the tactical value of the semantical project of libertarian “socialists,” but more power to them. As for substance, state ownership of capital–whatever you guys will allow us to call this, “state socialism” maybe–is unlibertarian. And that any libertarian society will have private ownership of capital, whatever you will allow us to call this–”non-vulgar capitalism,” perhaps. It is also my view that only Lockean-style private property rights are compatible with libertarian principles, whatever term the left-libs are comfortable with using to describe this system. Maybe we just use numbers, like system1, system2, system3, and move on.

“Well, it depends what counts as “Lockean style”; certainly my views on property are more Lockean than Kevin’s, but we both see it as a matter of degree rather than an abyss. For that matter, I’d say Kevin’s views (and Tucker’s) are more Lockean than Proudhon’s.”

Lockean style in that essentially unowned resources are first owned by some recognized means of homesteading the resource (embordering it, transforming it); and remain owned by the current owner until he abandons it or contractually conveys title to someone else. I agree with you that what constitutes abandonment is debatable, fuzzy, subject to community standards, and so on, but I do not agree that the mutualist occupancy requirement is on the abandonment spectrum; it is something different altogether and not Lockean. To hold that ownership requires occupancy is to collapse ownership into possession, i.e. to obliterate property rights.

And to hold that current users of property–tenants, employees–are its owners contravenes the libertarian view of freedom of contract, whereby an owner could use an agent to homestead or maintain possession/occupancy of property on his behalf.

As Blackstone wrote: “But when mankind increased in number, craft, and ambition, it became necessary to entertain conceptions of more permanent dominion; and to appropriate to individuals not the immediate use only, but the very substance of the thing to be used. Otherwise innumerable tumults must have arisen, and the good order of the world been continually broken and disturbed, while a variety of persons were striving to get the first occupation of the same thing, or disputing which of them had actually gained it. As human life also grew more and more refined, abundance of conveniences were devised to render it more easy, commodious, and agreeable; as, habitations for shelter and safety, and raiment for warmth and decency. But no man would be at the trouble to provide either, so long as he had only an usufructuary property in them, which was to cease the instant that he quitted possession; if, as soon as he walked out of his tent, or pulled off his garment, the next stranger who came by would have aright to inhabit the one, and to wear the other.”
–2 William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, *4.


GGI: I don’t deny that there are degrees in and community effects on standards such as abandonment, sufficiency of homesteading, and the like. What I deny is that you can characterize an occupancy requirement as one end of an abandonment rule. Abandonment rules are default rules that fill in when we are not sure. They never specify an owner has abandoned something if it is clear he hasn’t. Moreover, default abandonment rules do not prohibit the use of agents to possess on behalf of owners, which would flat-out prohibit the mutualist “occupancy” rule to hand over property to tenants and employees–they would rather be seen as agents of the owner. Adverse possession also cannot be twisted to yield this rule; an employee or lessee/tenant holds under color of the owner’s title and thus his use is *not* adverse to the owner’s ownership claim.


  1. Stephan Kinsella’s avatarStephan Kinsella on June 24, 2009 at 12:39 am

    roderick: “if, as soon as he walked out of his tent, or pulled off his garment, the next stranger who came by would have a right to inhabit the one, and to wear the other

    In other words, something no mutualist actually advocates.”

    Roderick, Carson writes: “For mutualists, occupancy and use is the only legitimate standard for establishing ownership of land, regardless of how many times it has changed hands. An existing owner may transfer ownership by sale or gift; but the new owner may establish legitimate title to the land only by his own occupancy and use. A change in occupancy will amount to a change in ownership. . . . The actual occupant is considered the owner of a tract of land, and any attempt to collect rent by a self-styled [“absentee”] landlord is regarded as a violent invasion of the possessor’s absolute right of property.” [emphasis added]

    This indicates that, for mutualism, the “actual occupant” is the “owner”; the “possessor” has the right of property. If a homesteader of land stops personally using or occupying it, he loses his ownership.


Stephan Kinsella on June 24, 2009 at 11:43 pm

Roderick, these are excellent replies to Anon73. I would add that the principled way to look at this is not to try to select rules that avoid the social picture you do not like, but to simply realize that if a group of contractually-related individuals (a “corporation” C) contracts with a homesteader-agent H who then homesteads Blackacre, then (a) as between H and third parties T, H has a better claim (he is a homesteader, a first-user, with respect to them, and thus has a superior claim); and (b) as between H and C, C has the better claim to Blackacre than H by virtue of the contract. This is why C owns the land homesteaded. I fail to see how one’s concern that this might result in a pattern of distribution “like we have today” is relevant. In fact I thought the opposition of left-libertairans to today’s societal structure was not to its structure per se but to its illegitimate procedural origins. Which would imply that if the means employed are legitimate, the results are as well.


Stephan Kinsella on June 24, 2009 at 11:33 pm


“I agree with you in finding occupancy-and-use problematic, in part for the contractual reasons you mention (though neverfox will no doubt want to press an analogy between such contracts and slave contracts).”

This would fail, since a slave contract has to do with rights in the putative slave’s body, whereas occupancy-by-contractual-agency concerns title to external scarce resources.

“But I think the occ/use proponent is entitled to grump a bit about the fact that you initially offered an objection, in boldface, that you now admit doesn’t actually apply to the theory you’re criticising,”

? The Blackstone quote makes a good critique of the pure-possession view of property. As best I can tell, the mutualist occupancy view is a sort of weak variation of this idea. It’s not as extreme but it is similar. So the Blackstone quote is indeed pertinent in my view. Blackstone was talking about the problem of ownership ceasing as soon as possession ceases (which really means there is no ownership; there is what the law refers to as a right of possession, but no ownerhsip rights beyond this). Mutualism, as far as I can follow it, apparently believes personal occupancy is also necessary for the occupier to maintain rights in the property, though the occupancy doesn’t dissipate as instantly. So it’s not as bad as what Blackstone was critiquing but in that vicinity.

“and when challenged on it you switch to a different objection. So why offer the other objection in the first place?”

There are several problems one can point to in the mutualist view of property and occupancy. I only briefly mentioned two here.

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