The Right to Land


The Earth and all it possess, in the mind of John Locke, is property to be used by the people in common for their own benefit and existence. In order to possess the property in common, all individuals in society must have the rights to that property. Therefore, in order to possess individual property in order to be used by only one individual, there has to be a way for the individual to earn all of his properties. Through the gaining of property by single individuals, certain terms must be met in order to make this action just. Thus, the property acquired has to be used and every individual must have access to the property or goods of his own as long as he earns it. Through this process, there will undeniably be individuals who possess more land than the next person, and therefore economic inequality will result. Therefore value in the form of money or property acquired for the labor of one person has to be proportionate to the labor that he puts into his work, and thus economic inequality becomes justified and no individual rights are harmed. As for those people who do not own property, the ability to own their own labor and receive the reciprocal payment for that land constitutes equality of owning property. In contrast, those who cannot produce their own labor through no fault of their own have to rely on others to obtain resources for them and thus maintain their natural rights.

In order to acquire any land, an individual has to have the means of accomplishing this task. As Locke mentions, “Whatsoever then he removes out of the state of nature… he hath mixed his labour with, and joined it with something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property.” First, each person owns his own body and the labor that his body performs should be the equivalence of the property owned. If that individual adds the labor to a piece of property that piece of property becomes his personal property. The example that Locke uses is that of picking an apple. To Locke, if an individual used his own labor to obtain the apple, the apple would become his. By individual initiative, even without the consent of the governed that Locke talks about in the case with government, people have the right to individual property. He further iterates this point as he mentions, “…but supposing the world given, as it was, to the children of men in common, we see how labour could make men distinct titles to several parcels of it, for their private uses…,” thus giving every individual the license to obtain goods through labor.

Thus, with the obtainment of goods, the ability to use all the goods obtained comes into the argument. In order for individual property to be justified, an individual must not possess any more property than he can use for his own benefit. A natural right as mentioned in the Locke’s Second Treatise on Government and Jefferson’s Constitution is to possess life, liberty, and property. However, when the property an individual possesses cannot be used for any benefit and is wasted, then the individual loses that natural right to that property. Locke emphasizes that “Nothing was made by G-d for man to spoil or destroy.” In order for land to be used, labor has to be applied to it either in the form of farming or building on it, otherwise the land is wasted. Just as with apples, if someone picks too many apples and some of them rot and are not eaten, that is a violation of the natural rights of others who did not have the opportunity to own and eat that apple even though they possessed the labor in order to obtain that apple. Thus, when the Indians possessed land, since in their eyes they could not own anything, this created a paradox on two points. First, the Indians were not using all the land that they possessed, but then they didn’t have this obligation since in their minds they didn’t own the land to begin with. This contrast in understanding property led to the Indian‘s losing their land. Otherwise if the government made them own the land, the native Americans would be going against their own culture and their own beliefs. It was a disagreement between two belief systems that led to the expulsion of one of those systems. Economic inequality was thus justified as it was thought that as long as people used all they obtained through their own labor, it would be justified and not in violation of anyone’s rights.

Therefore, value is attributed to labor and that is what economic inequality is based on and the basis for it being justified. All property either in object or labor form has a value attributed to it, thus if one has too much of either an object or of labor, that individual can trade in that property in exchange for other property. Thus with labor, labor that cannot be used by the individual himself is traded in for a value such as money and then the individual can obtain property through the money he obtained. For example, if a man possessed the ability to work, however he had no land of his own to work, by working for someone else, he is not wasting his labor, rather he is attributing value to his labor and at the same time attributing value to the property that he is putting his labor into, even though he does not own that property. The laborer is thus not wasting any of his land either by being able to take the products of the land produced by the laborer and then selling it, obtaining more money and thus creating a trickle down system where the laborers also benefit from this aspect as they receive more money for their labor as more value is put onto it. Therefore, not only is economic inequality justified, it is also beneficial to the community since as the owners of the property own more land, they can hire more individuals who use their labor to gain money for their individual benefit as well.

Money is another factor in the argument for justified inequality. Locke wrote, “Find out something that hath the use and value of money amongst his neighbors, you shall see the same man will begin presently to enlarge his possessions.” Thus the owners benefit the whole community as they give those who cannot own their own land the opportunity to buy property through using their own labor and obtaining money which in turn can buy property. This gives the opportunity for some to own more land than others and maintain a protection of rights as long as others can use the land in order to obtain value for themselves through labor or by using the land in order to obtain resources bought through the money earned through their labor.

The heart of economic inequality lies within the fact that after a while the land will be taken by the appropriated owners and those who either do not have the means to buy land or those who have come too late, will not be able to obtain land. However, this inequality is still justified by the mere fact that the people still possess labor. Through using their labor as a means for obtaining property, the laborers can obtain enough money in order to either buy land from an appropriated owner or to buy the same property or good that the owner of the land would buy once he received the money obtained from selling the goods he obtained by using his land.

Economic inequality can still exist due to a few specific circumstances. First, there will be those who will put in less labor then others and thus economic inequality will be justified since the product of labor is proportionate to the value earned. Another more substantial reason for inequality is that one owners need might be significantly more than another owners depending on the number of family members that owner has and the situation in his family. Still, if everyone uses only what they need and not let any of their property spoil, then it is justified to have an unequal economy in a society. Since Locke says that children have limited rights until they reach adulthood the one who is in possession of the paternal power has to provide them with food and other necessities which require economic inequality based on what the situation is. As Locke says, “Their parents have a sort of rule and jurisdiction over them, when they come into the world, and for some time after…” Thus, as each individuals situation with family, health, etc. is different, economic inequality is justified in order to provide for those who cannot provide for themselves through no fault of their own. These specificity’s justify economic inequality and instead of violating rights, rather abide by all the natural rights appropriated to an individual.

Property becomes property before the law and the law protects its use as well as improve everyone’s well being. The incentive of property in order to maximize goods of individuals in turn attributes to the happiness of the population. Locke thought of America as a country that had an abundance of resources, but since people did not put as much labor into the land as they did in England, the value of the land decreased within America as a whole compared to England. As Locke mentions concerning America, “…i. e. a fruitful soil…. What might serve for food…; yet for want of improving it by labour, have not one hundredth part of the conveniences we enjoy: and a king of a large and fruitful territory there, feeds, lodges, and is clad worse than a day- labourer in England.” Thus through the incentive of inequality, England produced more goods through using less land, because they used all the land they had in order to produce goods for themselves.

In order to achieve justice in inequality, factors have to be presented in order to produce a medium where the benefits to individuals are at a maximum while the harms are at a minimum or none at all. The consensus reached in Locke’s Second Treatise on Government is that economic inequality is needed in order for the state to flourish economically and to give individuals the incentive to obtain property itself. The basic rights of life, liberty, and property are all achieved as long as individuals are able to use their labor to obtain either property or value in order to obtain goods, and as long as the labor put in is equal to the value which is attributed to it. In the same tone those who cannot achieve for themselves for no fault of their own, have to have the opportunity to have the same natural rights as anyone else in a society. Therefore, certain individuals will have to obtain more than others do in order to provide for those who lack the ability to use their own labor to obtain for themselves.


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