Libertarian perspectives on natural resources

Libertarian perspectives on natural resources

There is much controversy among libertarians regarding natural resources, especially land.

Some libertarians view the use of natural resources by one person as a limitation on the equal rights of others to use natural resources. In the extreme case, where unclaimed land is not available, the existence of absolute property in land is a denial of the right to life since all persons require land in order to live. These libertarians view landowners as practically equivalent to the state.

Others believe that fundamental rights can only be embodied in absolute property rights and that property rights must apply to all material items. They argue that a limitation on the right to absolutely own something as fundamental as land is incompatible with libertarianism in their view.

Many classical liberals (Locke, Paine, Jefferson) recognized that absolute ownership of natural resources could deprive liberty, but classified the great amounts of land populated by indigenous peoples as "unsettled", avoiding the issue in theory, if not in practice. The idea that landed property is incompatible with liberty and is simply an act of state power is also common to many anarchists.

Some libertarians believe that property is on one's work based on resources, and never on the resources themselves, so that there is actually no problem of unjust hoarding of resources: if someone else can reuse the "same" resource without harming the previous "owner"'s work, he has a usufruct to use it. Since there is no conflict, the previous "owner" has no claim. For example, if one person traverse another person's land with electromagnetic waves from radio broadcast or sight of a nearby building, the first is not interfering with the second person's crops, so he has no claim against the first. However, if the first were walking on that land and treading on the crops, the second would have a valid claim. Though natural resources exist, what gives "value" to them is the work of men, and those who create this value legitimately own it, whereas by the very nature of a free society, they do not own the utility of these resources that otherwise benefit everyone. See the relevant chapter of Frédéric Bastiat's Economic Harmonies [http://www.econlib.org/library/Bastiat/basHar9.html] .

The resource-sharing "geolibertarians" are not convinced that this created value is returned to its rightful creators under a system of absolute land ownership. They point to the steadily rising value of urban land regardless of its use, and claim that the owners of such land collect but do not create the increase in its value. See land value tax.


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