Land to the People Who Till It! The American Land Question and the Abolition of Work

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Market Anarchist Joseph R. Stromberg takes on the Land Monopoly, and examines how political expropriation, the tax economy, and political constraints on workers’ access to small-scale land ownership have combined to create an economy of dependence, employment and top-down capitalism.

“Where resources are ‘open,’ few will work for big enter­prises, and the latter will (if they can) institute some form of slavery. One never finds free land, free peasants, and non-working owners together. Why? Because where pol­it­ic­al leverage allows, aspir­ing lords and rent-seekers will eliminate the free land, the free peasants, or both. Enter­prisers in colonies have always want­ed regul­ar supplies of cheap labor for their projects. Aided by col­on­ial administrators with the same assumptions, they gradually over­came native economic in­dep­endence. Land was the key.  No matter how hard natives work­ed on their holdings, colonialists decried their ‘idleness’ — and their unciv­il­iz­ed fail­ure to work for wages. Colonial bureaucrats and em­ploy­ers saw a definite connection between small-scale land­own­er­ship and independence, and resolved to cut that independence short….

“I doubt we are necessarily better off merely because of em­ploy­ment. We need to know more, including why particular sets of choices exist in the first place. Back in the ’60s, Selective Serv­ice used to ‘channel’ us into the ‘right’ occupations by threaten­ing to draft us. What if proletarianization is not the ideal form of hum­an life? What if a complex division of labor is merely useful or con­ven­ient, but not a moral imper­at­ive? What if most of us are hirelings, well paid or otherwise, and then we learn what that status amounts to? Unfreedom arises both from direct, forcible coercion and from institutional arrangements that make people dependent. Freedom requires that we not be menaced by latent unknown powers. Freedom in this sense is liberty—a shared civic or public good. Like many real public goods it is not provided by the state, indeed the state may be its chief enemy….”

Introduced November 2011.

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