Geolibertarianism FAQ
FreeEarth.png

Summary

Geolibertarianism (sometimes called green libertarianism or ecolibertarianism) is the combination of geoism and libertarianism.

Geoism is the belief that

  • All persons have an equal right of access to the natural commons of the Earth, which is air, water, land, minerals, wildlife, spectrum —̶ everything that is not created by persons.
  • When you deplete, pollute, congest, or monopolize the natural commons, you must compensate those persons whose access to it you have impaired.

Libertarianism is the belief that

  • You fully own yourself — your body in space and your labor through time.
  • You fully own the material property you create or acquire from the unowned natural commons by combining it with your labor or body.
  • You have the right and responsibility to control your own body, actions, property, and use of the commons, but you may use neither fraud nor initiated force to interfere with the same rights of others.

Geolibertarians agree with libertarians about self-ownership, private material property, and the principle of non-aggression. Geolibertarians agree with socialists that there is a natural commons to which all persons have an equal right. Geolibertarians agree with greens that the natural commons of the Earth must be protected.

Ethics

Resources

What are natural resources?

Natural resources are everything except persons and the wealth that they have produced, and thus include underground minerals, metals, and oil; wildlife, including forests; the genetic variety of life; oceans, lakes, and streams; the atmosphere, wind, precipitation, and sunlight; and land.

What is land?

For the purposes of economics, land is any naturally-occurring space that can be useful for production — surface land, seabed, water surfaces, airways, orbits, and electromagnetic spectrum.

Does the need for a resource require that it be shared?

Some Geoists argue that because land is necessary to live and be free, it should not be owned or must be shared. However, this argument can be applied to many kinds of goods: air, water, food, clothing, shelter, heat, education, tools, employment, health care, child care, etc. The need for land (and other natural resources) is not why persons deserve equal access to them. Rather, it's because those resources are natural and not produced by other persons.

Are demanders owed the value their demand creates?

Is compensation owed for positive externalities?

No, that's why the collection of community-created ground rent should not be strictly mandatory.

Property

What is property?

Property is anything that an agency has the exclusive right to possess, use, and assign. To be property, an entity must not be a person, and must be substantially excludable and not entirely non-rival. A good is excludable to the extent that uncompensated consumption of it can be detected and prevented or punished. A good is rival to the extent that multiple consumers cannot consume it without mutually interfering.

There are four kinds of property:

  • material property consists of matter or energy
  • spatial property consists of naturally-occurring space that can be useful for production — surface land, seabed, water surfaces, airways, orbits, and electromagnetic spectrum
  • contractual property consists of contractually-created claims on specified property or on the specified actions of specified persons
  • intellectual property consists of the right use particular identifiers or to profit from original expression or invention.

How do unowned resources become property?

Unowned material resources justly become the material property of the first person to combine them with her body or her labor so that the resulting asset is excludable by her and recognizable by others as no longer being unowned.

An unowned spatial resource justly becomes the spatial property of the first person to take exclusive possession of the site, for so long as the owner fairly compensates those persons whose access to it is thereby impaired. Fair compensation is equal to the site's ground rent, which consists of

  • the natural productivity of the site, exclusive of any improvements or specialized inputs of labor or capital; and
  • the rent the site accrues by virtue of proximity to club goods (e.g. highways, bridges, tunnels, pipes, wires, police, courts) and public goods (e.g. streets, flood/conflagration/contagion control, military defense).

Why not treat all material property like land?

Objects are a what; land is a where. Objects can be produced or extracted; land always existed. Objects have mass; land has coordinates. Objects occupy space; land is space. Objects can be created, moved, and destroyed; land is uncreatable, immobile, and indestructible. Objects can be stolen, but land can only be emptied or occupied or guarded.

If a kind of property can be created, moved, and destroyed, then there are several reasons why it should be owned rather than rented. First, the labor involved in discovery or transformation of the material resource is far more intimately combined with it than is any labor involved in the "discovery" of a site. Second, its supply can be increased by substitution effects and by movement along the demand curve. If its supply is not fixed, then ownership of it does not necessarily diminish the supply available for others, and indeed may even cause the supply to increase. Finally, it's not practical to track the creation, movement, and destruction of the myriad items of material property that have been, and continue to be, created from the natural commons. By contrast, there have been essentially no new discoveries of useful dry land in a century or more.

So objects can be owned, but spaces should only be rented. A conquistador claiming eternal title to an uninhabited island is like Marconi claiming eternal title to an unused radio frequency.

Aren't humans naturally territorial?

What is a right of way?

Why should the 1st homesteader later have to pay rent?

If there was as much and as good when I first homesteaded a space, why should I later have to share its ground rent with newcomers? You cannot homestead allodial ownership of a space. You can only homestead the right to use or occupy that space. Doing so does not grant you eternal absolute title to site. Rather, it grants you the right to exclude latecomers, as long as either 1) you compensate those you exclude or 2) there is as much and as good left for those you exclude.

Economics

Do any taxes not distort markets?

Any tax on production or exchanges or movable assets causes economic inefficiency. A tax on these things causes a deadweight loss (i.e. allocative inefficiency) because people who would have more marginal benefit than marginal cost are not buying the good or service — just as a subsidy induces people to buy who impose more marginal cost than their marginal benefit. However, this effect of taxation does not happen when the supply of the taxed good is perfectly inelastic, as is the supply of land — more precisely, the surface area of the Earth. Sites cannot flee or evade taxation, and the available amount of them is not reduced when they are taxed. (When a tax is not on a good but rather on a "bad", like pollution or congestion, it's the very absence of the tax that causes allocative inefficiency, because external costs are not internalized.)

How should government be financed?

There should be taxes only on aggression — e.g. polluting, depleting, congesting, or monopolizing the commons. In practical terms, this means

  • policing negative externalities through green pricing (e.g. pollution taxes)
  • protecting unowned natural resources with severance fees
  • financing club goods (e.g. highways, bridges, pipes, wires) through usage/congestion fees
  • financing public goods (e.g. streets, flood control, national defense) by taxing the extra land value they create.

What kind of taxation yields the smallest government?

If government revenue is restricted by definition to ground rent and fees for polluting/congesting/depleting the commons, then government cannot be nearly as big as when it is allowed to tax labor, production, exchanges, and all resulting products. Once you have taxation of people's labor and exchanges and produced assets, there is no limit to what the government can take from you.

How much geo-rent exists?

Politics

How is geolibertarianism different from libertarianism?

How is geolibertarianism different from socialism?

History

Were original landholdings just?

Are current landholdings just?

Where has Land Value Taxation been used?

Implementation

Land Value Taxation

Doesn't LVT mean that government owns the land?

If government taxes smog emissions from a car, does that mean the government owns the car? While taxing someone's labor or justly-acquired property does indeed imply an ownership interest in it, taxing aggression implies only an interest in justice. Sites are not created by the homesteader, and the current landholder does not create the site's ground rent. For a landholder to appropriate ground rent is aggression. Taxing ground rent is restitution. If ground rent rightfully belongs to those whom the landholder has excluded from the site, then returning that ground rent to the excluded persons is not an assertion of site ownership. Rather, it's an assertion that nobody has absolute allodial title to the site. Of course, the landholder has absolute title to the improvements on the site, and to the production he derives from his inputs of capital and labor. In fact, if the site does not benefit from proximity to the community's club goods and public goods, and has no extra natural productivity compared to land at the margin of production, then it has no ground rent, and the LVT is zero.

If you believe that the ground rent of a site rightfully belongs to the homesteader who fenced out the community, rather than to the community whose proximity creates the ground rent, then you will indeed believe that LVT means that the community partly owns the site. However, this is not an argument against geolibertarianism, but rather a restatement of disagreement with it. This argument depends completely on begging the question of who should benefit from a site's ground rent.

What would the LVT rate be?

Should LVT be local or centralized?

Land value taxes are naturally local, and so encourage Tiebout Sorting. If the the local mix of government services is too high (or too low) for your taste, or if they aren't a good value for the LVT rate financing them, then you can vote with your feet. By contrast, income and sales taxes tend to get centralized at the state or even national level, because (unlike land) income and sales can flee to lower-tax jurisdictions. (New Hampshire is among the most free states, and gets the highest percentage of government revenue from property taxes. California finances its high government spending with high centralized state income taxes that rose after Prop 13 restricted local property taxes in 1978.)

How to transition to LVT?

How can land value be assessed?

How intrusive is the LVT?

All the community needs to know is who owns each plot of land and how much the unimproved land is worth. Appraisers and insurers make such calculations routinely, and one variant would have each land-holder self-assess as long as he's willing to take any offer over his assessed value. There's no need to audit anyone's behavior, as with taxes on income/production/exchanges. You don't even need to visit the site or look over the fence, as you do with taxes on land improvements or square footage.

Can you be taxed or bid off your land?

For illiquid landholders, taxes could accumulate as a lien against the property, capped at its market value, so nobody need ever be taxed off the land they hold.

Wouldn't rent-bidding discourage improvements?

A potential inefficiency or injustice would seem to arise if a bidder valued a site more than its owner does, while valuing the improvements less than the owner does. In order to avoid paying the higher site rent set by the bidder, the owner might have to accept a substantial discounting of his improvements. However, this sort of alleged injustice happens any time a property owner incorrectly forecasts his future expenses and needs to sell sentimental property at a discount. The only inefficiency would be transitional, as sentimental site improvements not valued by the market tend to get priced out of the hands of those to whom they represented real value. However, the long-run effect is that site owners will be discouraged from burdening sites with idiosyncratic improvements that are significantly beyond what the market (i.e. the second highest bidder) would want. This effect actually increases economic efficiency, by creating economic pressure to keep sites employed in their most productive use.

Wouldn't rent-bidding discourage discoveries?

As a property tax, wouldn't LVT encourage sprawl?

LVT would in fact help reverse the urban sprawl that government policies currently encourage. By taxing both improvements and land value, property taxes currently push development away from urban centers, where property taxes are highest. A land value tax would only tax land value, and so would encourage density and infill by taxing developed sites the same as sites that are underdeveloped or held for speculation.

Site values are increased by local government services: roads, bridges, tunnels, mass transit, air and water ports, water/sewage/gas pipes, electrical/telecom wiring, schools, parks, firefighting, police, libraries, flood control, etc. Whenever those services are financed by taxes on anything other than site value, then land use decisions are distorted in favor of sprawl because site values are subsidized.

Sprawl is also encouraged by

  • not charging automobile drivers for the pollution and congestion they cause, or for the full costs of the roads and parking space they use;
  • zoning rules requiring minimum lot sizes and disallowing subdivision and multi-household apartments;
  • zoning rules that artificially separate residential and commercial areas, and mandate larger parking lots;
  • government lending subsidies that favor single-family suburban dwellings over multi-family urban apartments; and
  • mortgage interest deductions that favor suburban homeowners over urban renters.

How do private communities tax themselves?

LVT turns out to closely model how private consensual communities tend to tax themselves. Malls, business parks, hotels, condominiums, homeowners associations — all tend to "tax" their tenants not according to profits or revenues or inventory or improvements, but mostly by site value (for which square footage is often a good proxy).

Must LVT be mandatory?

Land value taxes need not even be strictly mandatory. If you as a landholder decline to return to our community the ground rent you appropriate from proximity to our public/club goods, then we could simply disconnect you from our wires and pipes, and while you’re in arrears we could publish your name, address, and photo as someone whose property and person are excluded from the protections of our LVT-financed police and courts. If we catch you trespassing on any of our streets, parks, or other LVT-financed spaces, then you would owe the arrears on your parcel's land value tax, per the terms of the no-trespassing signs prominently marking those goods.

Nature's Dividend

What is nature's dividend?

Who administers nature's dividend?

Who receives nature's dividend?

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License