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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Human Societies

 All human societies are based on a system of property rights. The distribution of rights will necessarily be unequal, and the use to which property is put will be dependent on the tastes of the owners.

WHICHEVER WAY A SOCIETY of men is formed, the ownership of the land they inhabit will necessarily belong to a small number among them.
In nomadic societies like the Tartar hordes1 and Indian tribes, who go from one place to another with their animals and families, the king or leader must fix the boundaries for households and neighborhoods around the camp. Otherwise, there would always be disputes over living quarters or access to life’s conveniences such as forests, pastures, water, etc. However, when the districts and boundaries are settled for all, it is as good as ownership while they stay in that place.
In the more settled societies, if a prince at the head of an army has conquered a country, he will distribute the lands among his officers or friends according to their merit or his pleasure (as was originally the case in France). He will then establish laws to maintain property rights for them and their descendants, or he will reserve the ownership of the land to himself and employ his officers or friends to cultivate it. He also may grant the land to them on condition that they pay an annual royalty or rent, or he may grant it to them while reserving the right to tax them every year according to his needs and their capacity. In all these cases, the officers or friends, whether independent owners or dependents, whether administrators or supervisors of the production of the land, will be few in number compared to all the inhabitants.
Even if the prince distributes the land equally among all the inhabitants, it will ultimately be divided among a small number. One man will have several children and will not be able to leave each of them a portion of land equal to his own. Another will die without children, and will leave his portion to someone who has land already, rather than to one who has none. A third will be lazy, extravagant, or sickly, and be obliged to sell his portion to someone more frugal and industrious, who will continually add to his estate by new purchases on which he will employ the labor of those, who having no land of their own, are obliged to offer him their labor in order to subsist.
At the first settlement of Rome, each citizen was given two units of land.2 Yet, soon after, there was as great an inequality among inheritances as what we observe today in all the countries of Europe. The land eventually was divided among a few owners.
Assuming then that the lands of a new country belong to a small number of people, each owner will manage his land himself, or lease it to one or more farmers. In this economy, it is essential that the farmers and laborers should have a living, whether the land is exploited by the owner or by the farmers. The owner receives the surplus of the land; and he will give part of it to the prince or the government, or the farmers will give this part directly to the prince on behalf of the owner.
As for the use to which the land should be put, the first necessity is to employ part of it for the maintenance and food of those who work the land and make it productive. The rest depends mainly upon the desires and lifestyle of the prince, the lords of the State, and the property owner. If they are fond of wine, vineyards must be cultivated; if they are fond of silks, mulberry trees must be planted and silkworms raised. Moreover, part of the land must be employed to support those who supply these wants; if they delight in horses, pastures are needed, and so on.
However, if we assume that the lands belong to no one in particular, it is difficult to conceive how a society of men can be formed there. We see, for example, that for the communal lands of a village, there is a fixed number of animals that each of the inhabitants are allowed to maintain, and if the land were left to the first occupier in a new conquest or discovery of a country, the establishment of ownership would inevitably have to be based on some rule in order for a society to be established, whether the rule is determined by force or by law.

Essay on Economic Theory, An

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