Any Lockeian scholar would be lying if they told you that any topic in the secondary literature on the Two Treatises of Government was more famous (or infamousdepending on who you talk to), widely debated, or caused more controversy than the old Oxford grads theory of property. Some are shouting from the left that Locke argues a rights claim for subsistence for all individuals, that it may even support Marxs theory of exploitation. Yelling back are those from the right who claim that he formulates a moral justification for capitalist appropriation of property.
Then of course there re those somewhere in between who are telling everyone to shut up because Locke wrote the damn thing over three hundred years ago in the political context of 17th century England and to derive these kinds of modern political presumptions is ludicrous. They all make fine cases for their respective theories. This humble treatise, however, will merely essay to provide a fairly objective explanation of John Lockes disputed offering to the political and economic understanding of property and how it relates to poverty and the distribution of wealth.
It will then continue to examine the two most reeminent, contemporary champions of welfarist and entitlement theories in that of John Rawls and Robert Nozick respectively, focusing specifically on what they, standing on Lockes shoulders, offer as an acceptable system of economic justice. Locke begins by stating that each person has a natural right to preserve his or her life. “God has given the Earth to all people in common for their sustenance. ” (Locke 310). In the state of nature, each person owns everything in nature equally with everyone else.
However, some things in nature must be “appropriated” in order for one to derive any sustaining benefit from them. As an example, Locke says one must take possession of acorns or apples in order to eat them and, so, derive sustenance from them. But one must do something positive in order to appropriate the acorns or apples and, thus, make them one’s own. A person possesses his or her own body and the actions of that body. One owns oneself. By virtue of exercising the labor of one’s body in conjunction with the machinations of nature on land held in common by mankind, one removes a thing from the state of nature and makes it one’s own.
Locke says that one’s labors puts a “distinction” between oneself and the rest of mankind n relation to the object of one’s labors. The rights of the individual as expressed in one’s labors creates private rights. Ownership comes out of the appropriation of land and the mixing of labor into the appropriated land. This originates in the state of nature where there is no government above the individual to impede their efforts to use and hold onto their property nor regulate trade between buyers and sellers.
Natural freedom, according to Locke, is to live within the bounds of natural law (reason) which are respected in the state of nature as the right to enjoy the product of one’s labor and protect its use. This does not mean, however, that every person has a right to remove from nature everything that he or she wills. There are limits to what may be appropriated from nature. First, something may be appropriated from nature so long as it is enjoyed. Next, one may appropriate to the point of spoilage or destruction.
It is a limit because the properties that were spoiled or destroyed should have remained common property. As common property, another person could have mixed his or her labors with nature, thus taking it his or her property. In terms of land, one takes possession of land by improving it. It is owned to he extent that one can manage the land and use its products, and is subject to the same limitations as the other things one can appropriate from nature through his labors. God has commanded that it be so to the extent that He commanded mankind to labor over the earth.
And regardless of one’s appropriation of land, there is so much land left in common that the affect of appropriating the land is negligible. Indeed, when one cultivates his land, one increases the “common stock” of mankind by creating an abundance of product, when compared to leaving the same land to nature. Thus any amount that is ultivated beyond one’s needs can be used to supply the needs of others. That portion of one’s lands which produces the surplus remains somewhat in the possession of the rest of mankind.
The rest of mankind benefit’s from the abundance produced through labor. Civic freedom in the political society transfers only the right of property protection to the government, the executive power of individuals becomes the government’s duty to punish transgressions of natural law. Civil rights, argues Locke, are not the restriction of the liberties of private property but the consent of individuals to this duty of government to be the judge and executor f civil law founded upon principles of reason.
Property rights are passed on from the state of nature to the political state. John Locke demands that the government which is instituted by the political society is assigned with the power and purpose to regulate and protect the use of property. He argues that people are not “naturally subject” to any human government but introduces the consent of the governed concept. The people, however, have the natural liberty at all time to revoke their trust in the government, should it unjustly intrude on their property rights, equality, or other freedoms.
But Locke clearly articulates this breaking of trust in a government is not a return to the state of nature but to the political society (which then creates a new government). During this upheaval the natural right of individuals to own and use private property is maintained; the “artificial” government is what changes. Locke does believe that this human government will be uncorrupted as it was mentioned earlier that “perfect freedom” is an ideal for imperfect beings. The social contract, in the form of Locke’s political society, is primarily meant to secure individual freedom.
Whether it binds together a group of people with national myth or social identity seems to be a secondary benefit of the political society. Locke intends for the distinct members of the newly formed civil state to be served by their government, not serve the personal interests of the leaders. It is interesting that the method Locke prescribes for choosing the form of government is a majority vote among the political society’s members but that form of government is not necessarily representative democracy.
Once the form of government is decided then the people place their trust in whatever it is, revocable by the citizens should it interfere in their civic liberties nd private property. The political society formed out of the individuals and not the government would be the social identity of Locke’s state. The government can be replaced by the permanent political society. Without private property rights to be protected it could be possible to guarantee individual freedom for everyone to appropriate as much as they please.
But Locke points out that property accumulation is limited, not by intruders, by the factors of spoilage and individual labor strength (not necessarily intruders). Labor not only defines the individual as owner of roperty but also defines how much of the property can be appropriated. The property is meant to be enjoyed by the owner to the maximum; only as much property that can be used without surplus spoiling is the other limitation of accumulation. Locke’s detailed discussion in Chapter V outlines the impact of money in reducing and eliminating these limitations by exploiting the so-called surplus value and wage-labor to maximize profits.
It is most important for Locke that this productive activity is free from intrusion by other individuals in the state of nature and the government in the civil state. There is no individual freedom unless property rights are established and property protection is enforced. Modern-day critics label these statements as justification of uncontrolled, industrialized capitalism and exploitation of the labor working class. “[Some scholars feel] that Lockes theory indirectly inspired Karl Marxs theory of exploitation” (Yolton 90).
Some thinkers like Marx actively participated in organizations with the goal of bringing down liberal, capitalist states. Yet today documents like the American constitution, embody principles such as consent of the governed, inalienable rights, and rotection of property. Individual freedom is meaningless without private property in both the “non-governmental”, theoretical state of nature and political societies such as the United States which are modeled on liberal ideas espoused by Locke.
Finally, though the natural and political states are founded on reason as revealed by the divine will Locke does not propose theocracy but the right of members of the civic state to choose whatever form of government they want. Locke’s view of property accepts and endorses two states of affairs we find problematic today. Huge differentials in wealth between the rich and the poor. Locke essentially claims that the advent of money made it possible to accumulate vast wealth. When wealth was measured in goods that were perishable, this meant that there was a limit to what could be accumulated and kept.
For Locke, it is unjust to hoard those things which will simply perish uselessly and since money is something lasting, it can be hoarded without any problem. But as Locke continues, if a person exchanges his perishables for something durable, such as money, then if, he invaded not the right of others, he might heap up as much of these durable things as he pleased; the exceeding of the ounds of his just Property not lying in the largeness of his possession, but the perishing of any thing uselessly in it. This view is taken up in contemporary theories of justice by libertarians such as Robert Nozick which will be examined later. Regan Class Notes). After acquiring goods of a particular kind there must be enough, and as good left in common for others.
We must take only what we can use to prevent spoiling and waste. Locke makes it clear that there is always a right of subsistence that can be evoked be the poverty stricken. Furthermore, Locke insists that those who own property have a duty to the needy. The holding of property carries certain duties and the central one is that the holder creates wealth that will benefit the common good. Locke holds a doctrine of communal rights – often called “use rights” and “claim rights.
This is found in the notion of common or public land which is used by everyone in the society. So he recognizes the need for both private property and common land. Locke sees private property as essential for the development of a productive modern economy, one which will vastly increase the wealth of the society so that everyone in it benefits. Locke is not celebrating private wealth as a good n itself but rather as a means to make society wealthier which in turn improves the lives of everyone in the society. Enclosed land, when it becomes private property, yields ten times what it would yield as common land.
Locke sees the right to property as grounded in a person’s ability to make this land productive. By property Locke means more than just material goods. He means the rights we have that others have a duty to recognize. Locke’s thought on political legitimacy and property have had enormous influence on contemporary political philosophy and his ideas have become part f the public political culture of democratic societies. Despite his mistakes and prejudices, he offered an account of how political power ought to be constrained, making way for the justification of modern democratic societies we find so ascendant todayand their critics.
This brings us to the Rawlsian and Nozickian take on the matter. There are many theories of distributive justice. A detailed discussion of all such theories is beyond the scope of this essay. For our purposes, it is sufficient to explore the differences between entitlement and welfarist theories of distributive justice. Under entitlement theories, a person deserves oods because of some action the person has taken or some trait the person possesses. One entitlement theory is the notion, sometimes associated with John Locke, that a person has a right to what he produces.
A modern variant, offered by Robert Nozick in Anarchy, State and Utopia, states that a person is entitled to those goods acquired in uncoerced exchanges with others. In his famous, controversial work Nozick adopts a theory of property rights under which a person has a right to property if he acquired it in accordance with the principle of “justice in acquisition” or in accordance with the principle of justice in transfer” from someone else who was entitled to it.
Nozick attempts to distinguish his theory from desert theories that judge the goodness of the world according to whether the distribution of goods is consistent with a person’s endowment with some quality. Instead, Nozick evaluates the justice of a person’s property holdings solely according to the method by which such holdings were acquired. Thus Nozick rejects theories of distribution of the form “To each according to his X” as consequentialist and ahistorical rather than process-based.
Welfarist theories of distributive justice, on the other hand, judge the oodness of social states solely by the welfare or utility enjoyed by the individuals in those states. Perhaps the two best known welfarist theories are utilitarianism, which judges the welfare of a society according to the unweighted sum of the utilities of its individual members, and the “leximin,” based loosely upon the philosophy of John Rawls, which judges the welfare of a society according to the well-being of its least well off member.
Lying between utilitarianism and the leximin with respect to preference for equality are weighted utility theories that, like utilitarianism, consider the welfare of ach individual in determining social welfare, but that give greater weight to the well-being of the less well off members of society. The leximin is derived from the second of Rawls’ two principles of justice, which maintains that society should be structured so as to maximize the amount of primary goods held by the least well off class.
This principle is to guide societal structure only after society has implemented Rawls’ first principle of justice, which calls for the maximization of the liberty of each individual, consistent with the preservation of a like amount of liberty for thers. The welfarist leximin, unlike Rawls’ theory, maximizes the welfare, not the primary goods, enjoyed by the worst off individual and considers the distribution of liberty only as it affects the level of welfare. Under a leximin, if the least well off individuals in two societies are equally well off, the societies are judged by the welfare of the second least well off individual and so on.
If only the welfare of the least well off individuals are considered, then the term “maximin” is used rather than leximin. Although concern for incentive and demoralization effects may lead some elfarist theories to consider how individuals acquired goods in determining distribution, the fundamental focus of welfarist theories is often thought to be at odds with that of entitlement theories. Under entitlement theories and certain other non-welfarist theories, an individual has a right to a good regardless of whether her ownership of the good is consistent with the welfare of others or even with her own welfare.
For example, according to Nozick, a person who acquires a good in a just manner would have a right to the good even if it were of little or no value to her and of enormous value to others. In contrast, welfarist theories consider the fact that a person has created a good only to the extent that allocating goods to their creators improves social welfare by encouraging production or stability. The creator would not, however, have a claim to the good derived solely from the act of creation.
Thus, welfarist theories of distributive justice permit taxation either to finance public goods or to redistribute income, if the well-being of individuals in the society is thereby improved. An understanding of the implications of welfarist theories of distributive justice for the tax structure should be understood. We focus on welfarist rather than entitlement theories, in part because we believe that such ethics, while not without problems, have more to commend them. It seems plausible, at least, to judge government policies by the impact those policies have on the welfare of the individuals in the society.
One particularly attractive feature of a welfarist analysis of taxation is its responsiveness to the efficiency effects of various tax structures –effects that nearly everyone finds relevant. Welfarist theories view as desirable any change that makes some member of society better off without making any other member worse off. Entitlement theories, on the other hand, may not endorse a tax that increases the welfare of an “undeserving” individual even if that change does not reduce the welfare of any other person.
While it may be possible to formulate a coherent ethical theory that rejects the this, acceptance of this principle is frequently considered a prerequisite of any acceptable social decision making rule. A final reason for othe focus on welfarist theories is that entitlement theories do not clearly justify any rate structure. Any tax imposed on an unwilling taxpayer may be inconsistent with a system based on the view that a erson has a right to what he produces.
Under such an entitlement theory, a state might be permitted only to levy taxes that lead to making every member of the society as well off or better off than she was before the tax. For example, compulsory taxation might be justified to maintain a government strong enough to protect the rights of the individuals living under it. Even if this notion is accepted, however, it provides little guidance as to the appropriate rate structure. The tax implications of welfarist ethics have been explored in the important economics literature on “optimal taxation. ” Welfarist ethics are not without their own difficulties, however.
Many reject such theories because they do not value rights except to the extent that they improve the welfare of individuals. Others find the interpersonal comparisons of utility required by welfarist theories to be not only difficult to make, as most supporters of welfarism would admit, but also meaningless. The rejection of an exclusively welfarist ethic does not necessarily imply acceptance of an ethic that is exclusively entitlement-based. Conceivably, a just society could consider both the welfare of individuals and entitlements in etermining a fair system of distribution.
Optimal taxation analysis should be of interest to those who believe in a mixed ethic, since it provides insight into the tax structure inspired by any theory of distributive justice that is at least partly concerned with individual welfare. Ultimately it is the duty of society to see how the redistributive features of various progressive rate structures comport with a wide variety of welfarist ethics, ranging from utilitarianism to the Rawlsian leximin, in order to discover the best structure for the society in which we live.