How private are property matters?

From Zero Hedge

  • In an unprecedented move, Hamburg authorities confiscated six residential units in the Hamm district near the city center. A trustee appointed by the city is now renovating the properties and will rent them — against the will of the owner — to tenants chosen by the city. District spokeswoman Sorina Weiland said that all renovation costs will be billed to the owner of the properties.
  • Similar expropriation measures have been proposed in Berlin, the German capital, but abandoned because they were deemed unconstitutional.
  • Some Germans are asking what is next: Will authorities now limit the maximum amount of living space per person, and force those with large apartments to share them with strangers?

It should be noted that all the properties were vacant and unused and that property owners received multiple requests to repair and make the properties habitable.  Many libertarians may scoff at this measure but it MAY be perfectly consistent with Locke’s theory of private property.  Locke did argue that unused land or resources that were being wasted should be returned so that others may derive a better use.  Before that happens, however, certain criteria should be met.

Karen Vaughn wrote an excellent essay on Locke and his theories on property that highlight this position.

Locke infers that as long as men heed the injunction not to allow anything to go to waste uselessly in their possession, there will in this early state of nature, be plenty of land and resources to go around for everyone. He argues further that originally in the state of nature, there was no incentive for anyone to try to accumulate more property than he could use since most goods were perishable. In fact, Locke seems to describe an early state of existence in which populations were small and resources abundant although the general level of wealth was probably very low. There was no accumulation of wealth and relatively little land ownership in a basically nomadic population.

She goes on further to describe how the creation of money complicates the analysis.  I could simply buy property and let it sit in the hopes of it increasing in value.  This would be consistent with Locke’s theory in that, accumulating wealth is a legitimate use of resources.

One can make the argument that by allowing the properties to fall into disrepair the likelihood of their increasing in value is diminished.  The fact that they are not being used to an effective end also violates Locke’s theory.  Unless of course, the property demonstrates an increase in value despite the property owner’s negligence.

I guess my point here is that the act of confiscating private property is not inherently anti-libertarian; that private property ownership, at least in Locke’s mind, is not absolute. Whether this specific action is justified is another question.

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