Is Land Special?

In response to that same post by Eugene Volokh described below, Mark Kleiman writes that land is a different type of property than are apples.

From a practical point of view, private property in land has huge advantages. But since land (setting Holland aside for the moment) can't be made but only appropriated by denying others the right to use it, I find it hard to understand how anyone could have a natural, rather than a prescriptive, right to landownership.

[emphasis mine]

Is land something unique, something distinct from other types of property? To answer that question, a more basic question has to be asked first-- what is land?

It's something used for different purposes by different people to meet different goals. Some use it to farm and grow food. Others use it to build shelter from the elements. Others use it for entertainment. Its potential uses are as varied as the people who use it.

Over the previous century, the land area dedicated to farming has dropped, even though food production continues to increase. More efficient agriculture has increased the yield of farmland. Genetic engineering has created ways to increase the outputs of agriculture without significantly increasing the input factors. Hydroponics allows the growing of crops without soil.

My 'land', which I use for mainly for shelter from the elements, consists of 800-square feet situated approximately 200 feet above sea-level overlooking Boston. Many others have their land both exactly above and below mine. The limits to this type of vertical structuring of land are essentially zero.

Many people have used the argument that somehow land is 'different' from all other property, somehow special, somehow unique. Georgists are fond of advancing this claim. Yet, nothing I have read has proven to me that this is the case.

No object has any economic value other than by appraisal by man. Somewhere in this vast universe of ours, among the billions of billions of stars and planets, is a plot of fertile land, that has exactly zero economic value, precisely because it is not used to achieve human ends. The ends are what give value to the means used in achieving them. As long as scarcity exists, man can find more productive ways to achieve the same ends. Contra Kleiman, land can indeed be made, and Holland is not the only example of its creation. The land that I come home to every night floating 200 feet in the air is a testament to that fact.

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Well everybody seems to

Well everybody seems to thinks some commodity or other is special. Some are more loony than others, but it seems to be a common thing with many, many people. I've seen people say labor is special because it comes from people and to buy somebody's labor means you have bought them...so labor isn't really a commodity or some such thing. The guys argument was really hard to follow to say the least.

I've seen the claim that energy is special because without you can't make anything else. Of course, the same thing is true of labor. Try producing something with zero labor.

It is something I generally expect to see from the loonies, not somebody who is reasonable like Kleiman.

In traditional legal theory,

In traditional legal theory, land is *always* unique. No two parcels of land are exactly alike - each is in a different place. In terms of practical application, two one-acre plots right next to each other might be almost the same (same size, same rainfall, same amount of sun, etc.) but the fact that they exist next to each other, and not in the same space makes each unique, according to the traditional theory.

In defense of the theory, much land is not exactly the as the land next to it. Different soil, animals, etc. can make two pieces of land just different enough to be distinguishable (it's why our next door neighbor can grow raspberries without even trying, and we managed to kill off all the plants that she gave us save one, which is a sad and scraggly thing.)

Real property (property in

Real property (property in land) has traditionally been treated differently by the common law, but in many states that's changing. A lot of property law is (in an ugly and confusing manner) being merged into contract law. IOW, the specialness of land will be gone.

- Josh

For clarification - When I

For clarification -

When I ask "Is Land Special?" I mean in the economic sense, not in the legal sense.

Land is a 'means' that provides a way to achieve 'ends'. If my end is to find shelter, land can help provide it. If my end is to grow food, land can help provide it.

When two goods can be used interchangably to pursue the same end, they become the same economic good. For example, if my end is to intake calories, a piece of cheesecake and a hamburger are identical economic goods falling under the category of 'calorie provider'. But if my end is to eat something sweet, they become different goods.

So my question "Is Land Special?" was asking whether or not land is somehow different from all economic goods, and I tried to answer that it was not. If my end is to find shelter, the finite square footage of land on the earth does not make land 'special' because square footage can be increased vertically as my apartment shows. If my end is to grow food, again, the finite square footage on the earth does not make land 'special' because more productive farming methods, hydroponics, and genetic engineering, all provide ways to grow more food with the same quantity of land.

You also might find this

You also might find this recent article by Walter Block of value on the subject of land ownership: http://www.walterblock.com/publications/block-children.pdf
Spencer Heath (and grandfather of Spencer H. MacCallum) is the libertarian who had developed pathbreaking work on land ownership: http://www.logan.com/afi/spencer1.html

When I ask “Is Land

When I ask “Is Land Special?” I mean in the economic sense, not in the legal sense.

You fool, everything's a legal question!

*shakes* *mumbles to self*

- Josh