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Saurabh

Private property rights in natural resources

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Friends,

I admire Ayn Rand; and want to find out if she every took a position on having Private property rights on natural resources.

I recently read about 'Georgism', and I am now convinced that it is not proper to allow private property in land. The assertion is that each human being has equal right to nature and its resources - by virtue of his being born in that nature. However, he is not at all entitled to any product of human effort, unless he earns it by his own effort.

I am open to debating this assertion on the forum, if anyone is interested.

Also, it will be helpful to know if anyone on the forum is aware of AR taking a position on this issue (I know that 'Ownership of Land' was discussed in the forum earlier, but I could not find references to AR's position on this issue).

Thanks!

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I recently read about 'Georgism', and I am now convinced that it is not proper to allow private property in land. The assertion is that each human being has equal right to nature and its resources - by virtue of his being born in that nature.
Do you have a justification for the claim that any man has a right to a thing? 'Georgism' is entirely contrary to Objectivism, because it mistakenly holds that men have rights to things, rather than actions. The idea that the act of being born entitles you to a share of so-called "natural" resources is morally indefensible (why should the involuntary act of being born create a right?). The arbitrariness of assertion that this right pertains specifically to "nature and its resources" can be seen by considering the fact that most men in civilized countries are born in hospitals, but men do not gain a (socialist) right to the hospital because they were born there.

If all men have equal rights to "nature", then all men have equal rights to the land, and what the land yields. That means that all men have the same right to the bricks and steel that the hospital was built from (since they are part of nature), and of course all men have the same right to the land that the hospital rests on -- therefore, any man has the right to destroy the hospital and use the land for growing organic alfalfa. (Of course, all other men have the right to that alfalfa field, not to mention the alfalfa, since the alfalfa is part of nature, and they may graze their cows there).

The first problem with Georgism is that its notion of "what is in nature" is undefined; the second is that the moral relevance of "being in nature" is undefended.

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I agree with David. If you deny individuals private property to land that action is a denial of all property rights. I would challenge you to name any thing or property that isn't a part of "nature". Good luck identifying "supernatural resources". All of the natural elements harnessed and molded by man are a part of nature, as are the products made as man is in nature as well. The assertion that all men have a right to all resources by virtue of birth in nature is a profoundly anti-life floating abstraction.The further statement that a man is not at all entitled to any product of human effort, unless he earns it by his own effort is completely nonsensical when presented in concert with the above view of property rights. How can any man claim with any sort of validity to own a product of his efforts when he utilized resources in the production that belong equally to anyone who happens to walk up? Such a contradiction in relations would lead to complete paralysis of action. Even one's own body wouldn't be owned as it is composed and sustained by "everyone's" resources. When dealing with scarce resources, which all resources are, following this principle can only lead to death on a wide scale. Man is a rational animal, and such a contradictory principle in action would paralyze the "rational" attribute of man, leaving only animal methods of survival. It would be ridiculous to improve or utilize "everyone's" scarce resources when that energy and life expended could be seized at any time by multiple and conflicting birthrights. The result would be a primitive existence of predator/prey relationships. Sustenance would be gleaned from the environment through violence or furtive agriculture performed with half of the farmer's attention focused outward to identify potential "heirs" to the resources he is cultivating. Force would be his only option as he would have to uproot his own efforts and move, kill his competitor, be killed by his competitor, submit to the newcomer's superior force (slavery), or enslave the newcomer himself. Social organization would be limited to packs of primitives (tribes) temporarily suspending violence amongst themselves but constantly fearful of betrayal when a packmate decided to assert his birthright over any natural resources in his field of vision. If the resources were his from birth then their current configuration as something another made would be irrelevant. Such a state would continue until a group of humans abandoned the principle of collective ownership of resources and agreed amongst themselves to adopt a social ethic harmonious to their nature as rational animals and implemented guarantees amongst themselves that any unclaimed resources discovered could be appropriated as personal property by way of use and improvement, freeing men to produce, improve, and innovate with their resources without constant fear of force from others. Consistent respect and enforcement of property rights would allow the people in such a society to interact as producers and traders.

Here is a relevant quote you requested.

"Any material element or resource which, in order to become of use or value to men, requires the application of human knowledge and effort, should be private property—by the right of those who apply the knowledge and effort."

-“The Property Status of Airwaves,”

Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, 122.

Found here.

http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/property_rights.html

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David,

Thanks for your post.

I like your THINGS vs. ACTIONS split, and I would like to clarify my position using this split.

Man has an equal birth-right to a THING that exists in nature without any human action (e.g. uncultivated land, air, water, etc). This is because no one can claim more right that the other man for such a thing - because such a thing existed independent of any human action.

This is my moral defense. Now, if you disagree with this, may I ask you to give me the moral justification for your position?

I will debate on the Brick and Hospital examples later because those involve more complex issues - as these Things have Action embedded in them, and it may be difficult to separate the two.

However, I first seek agreement on a basic assertion: Man has equal birth-right on things that exists in nature without any human action (e.g. land in its original/natural state)?

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Man has an equal birth-right to a THING that exists in nature without any human action (e.g. uncultivated land, air, water, etc). This is because no one can claim more right that the other man for such a thing - because such a thing existed independent of any human action.
You have not proven this assertion: i.e. that no man should have any right to things that exist without human action.

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Castle,

I did not make my position amply clear.

I agree with you that everthing around us in nature. And I do not want to imply common property on everything. My point is to abolish private property on things that exist without human action (e.g. uncultivated land). These things are what I mean by 'nature'.

Also, I fully recognize pvt. property right on the wheat that was grown on land (if rent for the land was given to the society). I belive this is fair, because we rewarded individual effort as well the society for the use of its common property.

Hence, if I deny individuals private property to land, that action IS NOT a denial of all property rights.

Also, many thanks for the reference of the quote! But I disagree with it: Those who apply knowledge and effort to a resource can only have a moral right to the value added by them. But, is there any moral justification for their owning the full resource?

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I admire Ayn Rand; and want to find out if she every took a position on having Private property rights on natural resources.

All resources are natural, and we have only one way of using them: through reason. Without private property, that, and implicitly the survival of independent, rational individuals would be entirely impossible. That's especially true in the case of land, which is vertical space. Isn't it obvious that men need space, to exist?

Man has equal birth-right on things that exists in nature without any human action (e.g. land in its original/natural state)?

I believe you are paraphrasing Genesis there (no, not the band, the Bible), not a new belief system called Georgism. The very similar claim in the Bible is based on God's will. Do you agree with that, or is there some other basis for your claim, in Georgism?

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You have not proven this assertion: i.e. that no man should have any right to things that exist without human action.

But that is not what I am asserting...I am saying no man should have more right than the other man --> equal rights for the society.

Also, I am not against property rights to the value a man can add to such 'original-state' things...

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But that is not what I am asserting...I am saying no man should have more right than the other man --> equal rights for the society.

Also, I am not against property rights to the value a man can add to such 'original-state' things...

Well, those assertions then. Why should anyone have any rights whatsoever?

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Every atom in everything material that you own would have existed without human action.

I really like this statement, and I will think and respond to this a bit later.

But I feel that we may be going into unneccasary complexity here - atoms are not the proper unit of analysis for this debate.

But I will get back.

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All resources are natural, and we have only one way of using them: through reason. Without private property, that, and implicitly the survival of independent, rational individuals would be entirely impossible. That's especially true in the case of land, which is vertical space. Isn't it obvious that men need space, to exist?

I believe you are paraphrasing Genesis there (no, not the band, the Bible), not a new belief system called Georgism. The very similar claim in the Bible is based on God's will. Do you agree with that, or is there some other basis for your claim, in Georgism?

Dear Jake,

I do not want to debate what Georgism says. I just want to debate my basic assertion. (Georgism, Bible, etc may say the same things, but those are irrelevant at this stage of the debate).

Also, can you support and clarify your statements in your 1st para, as I did not understand them fully.

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Man has an equal birth-right to a THING that exists in nature without any human action (e.g. uncultivated land, air, water, etc). This is because no one can claim more right that the other man for such a thing - because such a thing existed independent of any human action.

This is my moral defense. Now, if you disagree with this, may I ask you to give me the moral justification for your position?

This is a good illustration of why one must approach ethics based on fundamental principles (which Georgism fails to do). To put the matter plainly, "morality" refers to those principles which a man should follow in making choices in his life. Whether something is to be evaluated as morally good or bad is determined by reference to the facts of reality and an ultimate standard, namely, the life of the individual. I will refer you to "Galt's Speech" in Atlas Shrugged and the essays "The Objectivist Ethics" and "Man's Rights" in Virtue of Selfishness for a more detailed explication of how rights pertain to one's freedom of action (and not an entitlement to a thing).
However, I first seek agreement on a basic assertion: Man has equal birth-right on things that exists in nature without any human action (e.g. land in its original/natural state)?
No, you cannot get that agreement. First, rights do not emerge from the fact of being born. Rights are a fact of the nature of man. Second, a right is, specifically, the right to make a choice and act on that choice. Third, rights do not conflict. The justification of rights is that they are those conditions that are necessary to man's survival qua man (that is, as a reasoning being, as opposed to a brute existing by force). To be a man implies to have rights.

Therefore, one has the right to claim for one's own survival an object that is unowned. And one has the right to keep that object which one has claimed. If the desired object is owned by someone else, one has the right to attempt to persuade the owner to transfer ownership to you, and if you succeed, you have the right to keep that object. Once a metaphysically-given object is taken possession of, it becomes that man's property until he relinquishes ownership of it.

Ultimately, you will have to come to grips with the Brick v. Hospital problem. If you say that a man has no right to the physical substance underlying his creation, then "property rights" are a nullity -- any man would have the right to claim the physical substance of a hospital, and no man would have a moral claim to keep the physical bricks and steel in the form of a hospital.

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If there was one person on the planet, he would not own the planet, just as two people could not lay claim to a half-and-half split. They could never see all of their "property", let alone make any use of it. This is why every resource starts logically as unowned rather than mutually owned. If someone seeks to make use of an unclaimed resource(on unclaimed land), they may claim as much as they can use on a first-come first-served basis regardless of whether their claim constitutes an equal share. "But there would be monopolies and people would claim more than they could earn through their own effort!" Look around. There were some power struggles in such frontiers as the American west, but the injustice you might percieve can be discounted if one simply considers that no one has the right to come upon free, unowned land, and that those who did were simply lucky. Luck cannot be rationed without rights violations, so the question is, which alternative is worse? If that isn't enough, consider the modern world. I defy you to name a resource in today's world which can be monopolized without employing (government) theft. It is not a coincidence or the result of any legislation that there are no such resources. And if someone managed through some superhuman feat of business prowess to bring something like oil under his control, good for him. Nobody has an inherent right to oil. Reality has proven time and again that just as "Money will not serve the mind that cannot match it." (Ayn Rand's Atlas Shurugged, Money Speech), neither will land or anything on it, in it, or above it.

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David,

I am still not clear how you are refuting my claim and its morality. I would read again the references you provided. However, I am not seeking a detailed explication unless I am told the basics of the argument. Can you or anyone refute my basic claim - or accept it otherwise? Right now, I think, you are making lot of assertions about Rights - without giving a supporting justification.

e.g how would you support your assertion: "First, rights do not emerge from the fact of being born?" Please respond in the context of the birth-right that I am talking about (to make the discussion more specific), because i agree with your asserition for most other rights .

Also, I propose to discuss the Brick v. Hospital problem later - since it in no way interferes with our debate on my basic assertion - because we need to prove right or wrong based on logic, rather than on consequences.

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I do not want to debate what Georgism says. I just want to debate my basic assertion. (Georgism, Bible, etc may say the same things, but those are irrelevant at this stage of the debate).

Sure. It's wrong, because you are mis-using the concept rights.

Here's your statement: "Man has equal birth-right on things that exists in nature without any human action (e.g. land in its original/natural state)"

By the only definition I'm familiar with, rights are not something that is a consequence of birth, or refer to objects in nature.

If you're not using the Objectivist definition, then your concepts are not defined, so the statement is meaningless. On top of it, you're refusing to clarify what you mean by rights. I asked you whether you mean the command of God, you're saying it's irrelevant. How is where these rights come from irrelevant to a statement about rights?

Also, can you support and clarify your statements in your 1st para, as I did not understand them fully.

I can't find anything unclear in my post. What didn't you understand?

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I am still not clear how you are refuting my claim and its morality.
You have not supported your claim. You simply state that "Man has equal birth-right on things that exists in nature without any human action (e.g. land in its original/natural state)".

That's an arbitrary assertion for which you have offered no reason. You have not even offered a reason why man should have any rights at all.

Edited by softwareNerd

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Jake,

Let me try and define Rights: Rights on something are moral/legal claims on that thing.

The definition that you provided is not a definition, but a statement about rights. I can elaborate if needed.

You are currently defining rights by making certain debatable statements;and then asserting that the statements are true by definition. And then you are suggesting that since my statements are not as per the definition, hence they are wrong.

I urge you to not think of any 'given' definition of rights, but to just thinks of rights simply as 'fair' claims; and then debate on the topic. Please do feel free to challenge me here.

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You have not supported your claim. You simply state that "Man has equal birth-right on things that exists in nature without any human action (e.g. land in its original/natural state)".

That's an arbitrary assertion for which you have offered no reason. You have not even offered a reason why man should have any rights at all.

I did support my claim in one of my earlier previous posts. Here is it again:

Assertion: Man has an equal birth-right to a THING that exists in nature without any human action (e.g. uncultivated land, air, water, etc).

Support: Since these things exist independent of any human action, no one person can have a bigger claim than the other over these things --> Equal rights to everyone for all for such things.

Clarification: The equal right is only upon the original-state thing, but not on any value added by individual effort.

Also your second point: 'Why man should have any rights at all', has already been covered in AR's book Virtue of selfishness (Man's rights), and I have no disagreement there .

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Support: Since these things exist independent of any human action, no one person can have a bigger claim than the other over these things --> Equal rights to everyone for all for such things.
What is the basis for claiming that human creation is required to establish rights?

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Saurabh, The other responses are very instructive, in my opinion. Particularly SoftwareNerd's pointing out unsupported assertions. The following is in response to the specific points you mentioned regarding my post to you.

"I agree with you that everthing around us in nature. And I do not want to imply common property on everything. My point is to abolish private property on things that exist without human action (e.g. uncultivated land). These things are what I mean by 'nature'."

You have not drawn an important distinction. Uncultivated land can be either be unclaimed or owned but left uncultivated. If the land is unclaimed then Objectivism presents a rational approach to establishing ownership, utilize the resource. If the land is uncultivated, but is owned, there is no rational basis to deny property rights. The owner of the property either established ownership by some sort of utilization, or established ownership via utilization of other property. The owner either bartered something he owned or used money he earned to purchase the land.

"Also, I fully recognize pvt. property right on the wheat that was grown on land (if rent for the land was given to the society). I belive this is fair, because we rewarded individual effort as well the society for the use of its common property."

You have reversed yourself. Above you stated that you were referring to things like uncultivated land. Now you are using the example of someone growing wheat on cultivated land. I'm not sure if you fully understand the implications of what you are asserting, but what you are describing is very close to serfdom. A return to the middle ages. In your desired scenario who is responsible for collecting the "rent" on everyone's property? The unstated answer is, of course, the government. As the governor of force within the region it is the only entity capable of enforcing anything. So what you actually have is state owned property. As you have stated this ownership is to extend to all land, uncultivated and cultivated, the government in question would be communism.

"Hence, if I deny individuals private property to land, that action IS NOT a denial of all property rights."

Yes, it is. I have demonstrated above that public ownership of all land is really just a synonym for government ownership of all land. The immediate fallacy is to assert that a society or government has rights that individuals do not possess. A government only has rights thats that are delegated from the individuals of the governed society. People do not suddenly manifest new rights once a critical mass is reached. Another fallacy is that the above statements treat land only as an abstract. The reality is that land is a specific concrete. That means that for one person to make use of it others may not. If one person is to "rent" the people's property from the government then all of the other people must be restricted from using it. Now we're back to scarcity. Some people use the people's land and some are prevented from doing so by force. Who decides? The government. How does it decide? Whim. Arbitrary whim and the peddling of influence determine who uses the people's land under governments operating with unlimited power under communal principles.

You also state that denial of private land is not a denial of property rights. Unfortunately, you have done nothing to support that assertion. "Hence" is intended to indicate that what you are about to say logically follows from the previous point you made. You stated that you do support property rights for things made on land and from land as long as the producer pays a nebulous "us". Unfortunately, your view of property rights in that case is a floating abstraction. If the government has blanket authority regarding the use and distribution of land then it has blanket authority period. The government determines the appropriate rent for the people's property and the activities that are authorized there. You may not produce without government consent. You can not be there without the government's consent, but you have nowhere else to go. The government can inform you that the "rent" for the use of the people's land is whatever the government determines, , and communal governments traditionally have eventually. Property rights cannot be upheld in any capacity if I can determine what you make, how you can make it, how much you are allowed to keep (I set the rent), how much you are allowed to trade (if any), and what activities you can perform. The government can do all of those things if it is the owner of all land. You have to exist on the people's land, therefore you will obey the people's demands because you have nowhere to go. There will be no property rights.

"Also, many thanks for the reference of the quote! But I disagree with it: Those who apply knowledge and effort to a resource can only have a moral right to the value added by them. But, is there any moral justification for their owning the full resource?"

More floating. No material is a resource without human action. "Resources" do not just sit in the environment with a little "I am useful" flag on top. A person discovered the knowledge by which any potential value they might possess could be actualized. A person put in the effort to apply that knowledge. No value was added to an already valuable item. Value was generated using materials at hand. Without man's knowledge and ingenuity oil is not valuable in and of itself, its useless nasty sludge no one cares is buried because its worthless. All value now attributed to oil is value generated by specific humans. The same holds true for all "natural resources". A person does own only the value they're responsible for "adding" to the material because the material had no value prior to the person's actions.

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Let me try and define Rights: Rights on something are moral/legal claims on that thing.

Right. Where would that claim come from, and what is morality?

You are currently defining rights by making certain debatable statements;and then asserting that the statements are true by definition.

I never defined rights. I said I'm aware of one definition. I asked you to define them.

Also your second point: 'Why man should have any rights at all', has already been covered in AR's book Virtue of selfishness (Man's rights), and I have no disagreement there .

You disagree with the definition of rights. You're commiting the fallacy of ambiguity, where you are taking someone's sentence, and replacing a word with one meaning (individual rights as she defined them) to have another meaning (a moral claim yet to be explained).

I am assuming that you are not in agreement with any Objectivist definition of moral concepts. If I'm wrong, please specify what you're in agreement with, if I'm right, please define your version of what morality is, and any other moral terms you may wish to use. Do not steal out of context ideas from AR, because you have no use for them. The things AR said and defined, she said and defined in the context of her philosophy, they're not universal declarations to be applied to unrelated objects of your choosing.

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Friends,

At this stage, let me also provide you a background for my initiating this debate.

My country (India) is very densely populated. In certain areas, big parts of lands have been acquired by landlords (often using unfair means). Hence, lot of poor people have been marginalized - as their only talent was to plow the land- and now they can only do so by paying huge rents to landlords. This has led to class protests and violence. This violence has spread to about 30% of India. I am not happy with this situation, and being an AR fan, I want to understand what part of the poor's plight is due to their own choices, and what part is due to improper distribution of what is produced in the society. This will help me take a fair stance.

Now, below are my definitions:

Rights: Rights on something are moral/legal claims on that thing

Morality: Rationality

Origin of rights/claims: All rights emanate a basic right - an individuals right to live as a rational being

Below is my philosophical position:

Reality exists as an objective absolute. Man's mind is the only tool for him to know that reality and survive. Man should differentiate between right and wrong using his rational faculty to his best ability.

My assertion again:

Land (in its original state) needs to made common property. (I am eliminating other natural resources to focus the discussion. Moreover, what we can agree for land, we can also agree for Oil, etc).

This is because that original-state Land was not earned by any human being. It was provided by nature. So, it is unfair to give someone a higher share than the other on that original-state land. A laborer can still work on that land and own the wheat he grows on that land. But, only when he gives the economic rent on that land to the community. No pvt individual can collect this rent, as he did nothing to earn this rent. However, if he made the land more fertile, say by using fertilizers, then he can properly claim the value that he added by putting fertilizers.

I agree that it is difficult to separate the land output into these three parts: original-state value, landlord value-add by fertilizers, laborers labor in growing wheat. And I will tackle this very important issue as well - but once we make a logical conclusion on my basic issue.

Now, here is my response to Castle's post:

If the land is unclaimed then Objectivism presents a rational approach to establishing ownership, utilize the resource. If the land is uncultivated, but is owned, there is no rational basis to deny property rights.

Castle, my disagreement with you statement is partial. Let me describe where I agree and where I disagree.

Economics tells us that value created by plowing land is divided into three parts: Rent, Labor wages and Interest on Capital employed. My basic premise: One can only claim ownership on what one has earned. --> Individuals can claim wages and interest, but no individual can claim the rent (only to the extent it arises due to scarcity of land). If rent arises due to use of fertilizers, irrigation, etc; then once fairly claim that part of the rent.

Now if you have read Economics, you will agree that Rent can arise due to any of the above-mentioned two reasons. And my point is that what right can an individual have over the fruits of an event that was not caused by him?

... So what you actually have is state owned property. As you have stated this ownership is to extend to all land, uncultivated and cultivated, the government in question would be communism.

I am not sure what is wrong with govt. owning land and hence collecting economic rent. Let us use deductice logic to debate this issue. Let use not use the argument that: State-property implies communism. Communism we all know is bad. Hence, state-property is bad. Let us not bring unneccasary concepts into discussion. Communism is a complex concept which has no implication for the moral question I have raised - and I would keep it out of this debate. Feel free to challenge me.

So, can you tell me what is morally wrong with society (and hence govt.) owning land and collecting rent on it?

If one person is to "rent" the people's property from the government then all of the other people must be restricted from using it... Some people use the people's land and some are prevented from doing so by force. Who decides? The government. How does it decide? Whim.

You are assuming that my assertion implies use of force to allocate land. Let me clarify. In the society that I imagine, land will be common property. Now, the allocation of this land will be by free market principles - i.e. by bidding for rent. Whoever can bid the highest (since he believes he can utilize the resource most efficiently), gets allocated the land for a specified period. I am for minimalist govt. as well.

... A person does own only the value they're responsible for "adding" to the material because the material had no value prior to the person's actions.

Thanks for bringing this point up, as I think this very statement needs to be debated first. Let us focus only on land for the moment.

So, your statement is: Land has no value prior to human action

My assertion: Land may have no VALUE prior to human action. But, there is always some COST (rent) that needs to be paid for its use (in today's world where land is scarce). The payment for this cost (rent) needs to go to the society, not to an individual.

Support: Land is scarce. Hence, if A uses land, it prevents B and others from using it. So, A must pay some rent to use the scarce resource. Since the rent arose due to scarcity, no one can claim more right on this part than others. Hence, everyone has equal right on this rent.

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Saurabh, Leaving aside the immorality of taking away land from people, your idea is completely impractical. The most destructive land policy implemented in India were the post-Independence land-reforms. Even though many land-owners found ways to get around some of the rules, most large holders nevertheless had to cut their holdings. (Sadly American economists and advisors were often behind this push toward inefficient farming.) Children studying Economics in India are taught that it is an agricultural country. What this actually means is that it is a backward country. It does not mean that agriculture is its strength, but its weakness. It does not mean that it is productive, but that it is so unproductive at agriculture that so many people are occupied in the field.

India's villages will only boom if most of the people are not living in villages. Only when one has many huge efficient farms, will you see Indian agriculture approach the modern productivity levels. It was bad timing that India became independent when she did. It meant that socialist ideas were the rule, and people like Nehru and others absorbed them. They created a system that hampered industrialization: by taking control of what they called "core" industries (killing Bihar, which ought to have been a thriving state), and by setting up a "licence Raj".

Your idea that land should be commonly owned is unsupported, illogical, immoral and (as I explain in this post) impractical.

Edited by softwareNerd
Corrected addressee

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Dear,

I assume that you intended to address the post to me (and not to Castle).

I appreciate your interest and knowledge on Indian situation. However, I do not want to broaden the debate by discussing Nehru, Indian education, Agriculture efficiency, etc. Moreover, I agree with you mostly on your assessments there.

My contention is still on the basic issue. Once we logically conclude on the basic issue, the debate can move to more complex issues.

..Your idea that land should be commonly owned is unsupported, illogical, immoral and (as I explain in this post) impractical.

How is my idea unsupported, illogical, and immoral? I provided the support right? If you disagree with my support, please provide the support for your refutation (based on deductive logic).

However, I am willing to debate that the idea is impractical. I think that is a fair concern from you. But, please do not mix morality with practicality. Lets us first establish morality. Then we will proceed to practicality. Feel free to challenge me.

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