Introduction to Political Theory

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divide over the implications for the ownership of external things from the self-
ownership premise. One of the most influential left libertarians – Hillel Steiner –
argues, contra Nozick, that the natural right to self-ownership does not ‘ground’ a
right to ownership of the external world:
(a) a set of rights must be co-possible, meaning that it is logically impossible for
one individual’s exercise of rights to constitute an interference in another
person’s exercise of their rights (within the same set);
(b) for a right to be natural it cannot be the result of a contract;
(c) all actions consist in some kind of motion (material and special components
of an action are its physical components);
(d) one individual’s actions cannot interfere with another’s if none of their
physical components is identical.
(Steiner, 1974: 42–4)
Two points follow from these claims. First, self-ownership can be a natural right,
but Nozickian ownership of the external world cannot be. Second, if you impose
any constraint, such as Locke’s ‘enough and as good left for others’ or Nozick’s
‘no monopolies’ requirements, on acquisition, then the ‘first owner’ must be capable
of predicting the effect of his action on all future people – first ownership is only
retroactively legitimate – but this is impossible to do. Self-ownership does not suffer
from these problems. Although Steiner does not endorse his argument many left
libertarians follow Henry George’s idea of a site (or land) value tax as a means by
which a person’s acquisition of external things can be made compatible with the
idea that nobody has a natural right to the world.
Henry George (1839–97) was an American self-taught economist remembered
primarily for his proposal that there should be just one tax – on land. George noted
that the poor of New York were considerably poorer than those of California, and
concluded that exploitation had its roots in monopolistic control of land rents, which
were determined by supply and demand. Land is in limited supply, whereas the
value humans can add to land is indeterminate, and so we distinguish: (a) the site
value – which is determined by externalities, and (b) the value added to the land
by the owner. We should tax only (a). Many things affect the site value, including
location, natural beauty and deposits, and we calculate site value by using a similar
but ‘empty’ or undeveloped plot – the site value of such a plot should (ideally)
account for its full value and so we can use market prices. Site value tax revenues
should be used to compensate those who are not in a position to acquire land because
of the history of acquisition and transfer. The idea is that the value we add is ‘ours’
because it is an extension of ourselves, whereas the land itself can never be ours.

Cohen: a Marxist perspective on distributive justice

Marx’s critique of private property has to be located in his theory of history: human
beings have a drive to increase productivity, and this generates two struggles. The
first is a struggle against nature, and the second a struggle between human beings.
The two are related, for how we organise production will determine how effective
we are at using nature to our advantage. Over time the particular structure of

Chapter 4 Justice 89
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