A Landlord is a Government: The Libertarian Basis for Land Rights

The following is a repost of an article I read a while ago. The original site that hosted it is no longer available and I cannot find information on the author. I am reposting it here for your reading pleasure. If anyone has information on the author please let me know so I can give them credit.

Many libertarians overlook the fact that a landlord is a government. The more territory a landlord controls, the more obvious it is that a landlord is a government (in fact, that is the origin of the word “landlord”). Within the territory he controls, a landlord collects taxes (which he calls by the euphemism of “rent”), and makes laws (which he calls by the euphemism of “lease conditions”).
In addition, some landlords have their own security guards to defend their territory, just as city and state levels of government have their own police, or a national level of government has its own military. Some landlords also have their own arbitration process, just as other levels of government have their own court systems.

Libertarians in the classical libertarian tradition, such as Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, John Stuart Mill, Albert Jay Nock, Frank Chodorov, and various others, recognized that liberty requires limiting the power of landlords, just as it requires limiting the power of government at all levels. There need to be limits on the power of the landlord level of government, as well as limits on the power of government at all other levels of government.

The problem with the landlord level of government is not whether some landowners’ titles are based on land that was stolen from someone in the past. Rather, the point is that, even if their titles could trace back all the way without the land ever having been stolen from anyone, landlords are still governments – and they are still illegitimate, if they impose unjust taxes (“rent”) or unjust laws (“lease conditions”), as follows.

Constitutions and Leases

The great libertarian lawyer, Lysander Spooner, pointed out that if an individual did not agree to the conditions of a government’s constitution, and did not sign any contract agreeing to that constitution, then he is not obligated to abide by it. Spooner’s argument can be extended, as follows. Suppose an individual is forced to do the following: 1) He is forced to choose among several governments, and to pay taxes to one of them. By extending Spooner’s argument, it is clear that, if that individual did not agree to choose among those governments, then he is not obligated to choose among them, and is not obligated to pay taxes to any of them.

If he is forced to choose among governments, then it cannot be said that he voluntarily “agreed” to pay taxes to the government which claims jurisdiction over the territory he lives in. That “agreement” was made under duress, because he was not allowed the option of being free from paying taxes to any government. If a person has not agreed to be subject to a choice of tax-collecting governments, then he is not obligated to pay taxes to any government. A choice of slavemasters is still slavery.

The same is true if a landless person is forced to choose among landlords (which are really local governments). If he did not agree to be subject to a choice of rent-collecting landlords, then it cannot be said that he voluntarily “agreed” to pay rent (which is really a tax) to the landlord who claims jurisdiction over the territory he lives in. That “agreement” was made under duress, if he was not allowed the option of being free from paying rent to any landlord.

Suppose an individual was allowed to have an additional option: 2) He would be allowed to escape from those unjust taxes and unjust laws, if he would just pay a one-time “freedom tax”, determined by a government or group of governments. By paying that “freedom tax”, he would then be allowed to escape to a territory where he would have freedom from unjust taxes and unjust laws.

But if a person did not agree to be subject to that choice, of either choosing among tax-collecting governments, or paying a one-time “freedom tax”, then he is not obligated to abide by those conditions. Again, a choice of slavemasters is still slavery.

The same is true if a landless person is offered the option of making a one-time payment (the price of buying some land), in order to be free from paying rent to landlords. If he did not agree to the choice of either choosing among rent-collecting landlords, or paying a one-time land price, then he is not obligated to abide by that choice. A person is not free if he is forced to pay for the space his body occupies.

Suppose a person is offered one other option:
3) He would be allowed to escape from those unjust taxes and unjust laws, if he would just perform a one-time amount of labor, determined by a government or group of governments. By performing that labor, he would then be allowed to escape to a territory where he would have freedom from unjust taxes and unjust laws.

But if he did not agree to be subject to that choice, of either choosing among tax-collecting governments, paying a one-time “freedom tax”, or performing a one-time amount of labor, then he is not obligated to abide by those conditions. Again, a choice of slavemasters is still slavery.

The same is true if a landless person is offered the option of performing a one-time amount of labor, by traveling around in order to search for free land (free territory), where there is freedom from unjust rent and unjust lease conditions. That distance would be determined by landlords, and would change over time, as more unowned land is brought under their ownership. But if a landless person did not agree to abide by the three conditions above, then he is not obligated to abide by them. A choice of slavemasters is still slavery.

The Libertarian Alternative

The three unjust conditions described above exist if absolute ownership of land is allowed, rather than upholding the right of each individual to have some free land. Therefore, the only system of landownership which is compatible with libertarian principle is one in which absolute ownership of land is not allowed, and in which each individual has a right to free land.

But if each person has a right to some free land, how much land does he have a right to? And of what quality and at what location should that land be? First, it must be a large enough plot of land for his body to fit in, so that he does not have to pay others for renting or buying land simply so that he can exist.

Second, the plot of land has to be large enough for him to store property he owns, including consumer products, or products he owns for his business. If he did not agree to be subject to the condition of choosing among landlords in order to pay some landlord for storing his property, then no one has a right to force him to pay anyone for storing that property.

But how much free land and free storage space does each individual have a right to? And at what location? Thomas Paine proposed that each individual has the inalienable right to some free land, of average quality. He defined that as being land of per capita value, or per capita land rental value (not building value), or equivalent compensation – in order to enable the person to purchase land of that quality, or to compensate him for having to pay rent for land.

Paine’s policy ensures that, if a person did not agree to the condition of paying rent or a land price to anyone, then he is not obligated to choose a landlord to pay rent or a land price to. Similarly, if a person did not agree to travel an arbitrary distance to search for some free land, then he is not obligated to do so.

Under Paine’s proposal, it is recognized that any landowner who owns land of more than per capita rental value is displacing some other people from access to land of per capita rental value. Therefore, a landowner in that case would be obligated to either make some free land available of per capita rental value, or pay equivalent compensation – which would be enough so that a person he has hindered from access to land of equal rental value will be able to either buy some land of per capita rental value, or be compensated for having to pay rent for land of that quality.

Thomas Paine’s proposal for land rights is similar to the policies advocated by the other classical libertarians named at the beginning of this article, such as Jefferson, Mill, Nock, Chodorov, and others. Their views and policies on land rights can be seen in such publications as: Thomas Jefferson’s “Letter to Reverend Madison”; Thomas Paine’s essay on “Agrarian Justice” (1797); John Stuart Mill’s *Principles of Economics*; and books by Albert Jay Nock or Frank Chodorov. The most recent literature, by contemporary authors, is available from the Schalkenbach Foundation in New York City: 800-269-9555;

Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to A Landlord is a Government: The Libertarian Basis for Land Rights

  1. Vernon Etzel says:

    Really interesting presentation Tim. Very good.

  2. Pingback: Confusion about property rights from the libertarian left | Absurd Results

  3. John Kindley says:

    The author of this piece is Mike O’Mara. I don’t know much about him, but here’s something else he wrote in the same vein: http://www.cooperativeindividualism.org/omara-mike_deeds-to-land.html

  4. Pingback: Forming the Structure of the New Society Within the Shell of the Old | People v. State

  5. Pingback: How not to write an LVT rebuttal: featuring a moped « This is my chaos

  6. Gary Anderson says:

    I do think that the elite holding all the land can become a problem. But land is not as valuable as it once was. Means of production is more valuable. I would rather see worker ownership of companies than dividing land up into little sections. As we see in agribusiness, that is just impractical and would cause food prices to skyrocket.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>