The Party Without Principle?

Part of the "Critiques of Libertarianism" site.

Last updated 10/25/07.

[This was a letter from Mike O'Mara published in the March, 1997 issue of Libertarian Party News. Reproduced with permission of the author. Interestingly, it is absent from the online version of Libertarian Party News.]

Should the Libertarian Party be called "The Party Without Principle?" The nickname of the Party has long been "The Party of Principle". But, ironically, the Party really doesn't seem to rest on any kind of clear principle at all.

The entire economic platform of the Libertarian Party requires that people have the right to own "justly acquired property". But, amazingly, the Party has never specified any principle for determining what is meant by "justly acquired property". As a result, it really appears to be the Party Without Principle, so far.

In fact, the only clear principle of justly acquired property that has ever been presented is that of John Locke. But the Party has never taken a stand for or against Locke's principle of property rights, and has never offered an alternative principle.

Locke's principle of property rights is that justly acquired property is created when a person mixes one's labor with land and natural resources, to produce property. For example, if a farmer mixes labor with the soil to produce corn, the corn is the farmer's justly acquired property. After that, the farmer would have the right to keep the corn, or to sell or give it to anyone the farmer chooses.

Locke added that, since land (meaning a volume of space, and the natural resources in it) was not produced by any person, each individual must have a right to equal access to land and natural resources.

How then can Locke's principle of property rights be applied? It would be too difficult to divide the land periodically, because of the buildings on the land. Thomas Paine and Henry George proposed that, instead of dividing the land, we can divide the rent from land. The rent would be based on the market rental value of the location of land (not the buildings).

Only those who own land of more than average market rental value would wind up paying any net rent - to those they have displaced from using an equal share of land.

Government would not play any role in this. It would not receive any of the land rent, or even distribute it, and it would not assess the land rent. The land rental value would be assessed by the market, through a system of competing land assessors.

Those who disagree with Locke's principle of justly acqured property (and Paine and George's application of it) are obligated to present a consistent alternative principle. So far, no one ever has. If the Libertarian Party really wants to be The Party of Principle, it needs to either adopt Locke's principle of property rights, or offer a consistent alternative principle.

M.R. O'Mara

Counter image omitted.

Copyright 2007 by Mike Huben ( ).
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