Homesteading, One of the Two Pillars of Libertarianism

—–Original Message—–
From: GM
Sent: Tue 7/19/2016 8:17 AM
To: Walter Block
Subject: Initial Acquisition of Property

Hi Dr. Block,

I don’t understand the morality and philosophy behind the initial acquisition of property. I understand there are two prevailing ideas: Lockean homesteading and Hoppe’s first-use principle. Which do you accept? I have concerns about both.

1. Regarding homesteading, why does mixing my labor with land make it mine? I understand that I own what I create, but I cannot create anything in the true sense of the word, I can only rearrange things. What about Nozick’s objection that mixing juice in the ocean doesn’t make the ocean mine, even though I am mixing something I own with something I don’t. Some would say I have to “improve” the ocean to own it, but as Austrians we believe in subjective value theory, and I prefer the ocean with a little more juice in it (Stephan Kinsella also asserts that we do not truly own our labor).

2. Regarding the first-use principle (and Lockean homesteading), how do we get around certain inevitable ambiguities with property acquisition? By “ambiguities” I mean: If I’m the first person to pick an apple from a tree, do I own the tree, too? What if I am holding the apple and someone else uses a sword to chop off the top of the apple (I’m only holding the apple from the bottom) and the top half lands in his hands. Is that okay? If I plant a carrot, walk ten feet, and then plant another carrot, do I own the land I used to walk from carrot to carrot? What about the 2 inches of soil in between my footsteps? Is that open for acquisition as long as my bits of soil aren’t disturbed? It’s very important to me that I understand property rights because even the nonaggression principle is rooted in them (force may be aggressive or retaliatory depending on whether or not I legitimately own the land I push the “trespasser” off of. Thank you very much, GM

Dear GM:

I decline to answer all of your questions, apart from two of them, because to do so would repeat material already published which is fully responsive. Here’s one question the answer to which has not already been published: I support the Lockean – Rothbardian – Hoppean approach to homesteading. I see no real difference between the three of them, except that I of course reject the Lockean proviso. Second, surely, we “own our labor” in the sense that it would be a rights violation for anyone to steal our labor services from us, such as in coerced slavery, right?

Here are some readings on homesteading itself:

Block, 1990, 2002A, 2002B; Block and Edelstein, 2012; Block and Yeatts, 1999-2000; Block vs Epstein, 2005; Bylund, 2005, 2012; Grotius, 1625; Hoppe, 1993, 2011; Kinsella, 2003, 2006, 2009; Locke, 1948 (pp. 17-19), 1955 (chapter 5); Paul, 1987; Pufendorf, 1673; Rothbard, 1973, 32; Rozeff, 2005; Watner, 1982

Block, Walter. 1990. “Earning Happiness Through Homesteading Unowned Land: a comment on ‘Buying Misery with Federal Land’ by Richard Stroup,” Journal of Social Political and Economic Studies, Vol. 15, No. 2, Summer, pp. 237-253.

Block, Walter. 2002A. “Homesteading City Streets; An Exercise in Managerial Theory,” Planning and Markets, Vol. 5, No. 1, pp. 18-23; September,;

Block, Walter. 2002B. “On Reparations to Blacks for Slavery,” Human Rights Review, Vol. 3, No. 4, July-September, pp. 53-73

Block, Walter E. and Michael R. Edelstein. 2012. “Popsicle sticks and homesteading land for nature preserves.” Romanian Economic and Business Review. Vol. 7, No. 1, Spring, pp. 7-13;

Block, Walter and Guillermo Yeatts. 1999-2000. “The Economics and Ethics of Land Reform: A Critique of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace’s ‘Toward a Better Distribution of Land: The Challenge of Agrarian Reform,’” Journal of Natural Resources and Environmental Law, Vol. 15, No. 1, pp. 37-69

Block, Walter v. Richard Epstein. 2005. “Debate on Eminent Domain.” NYU Journal of Law & Liberty, Vol. 1, No. 3, pp. 1144-1169

Bylund, Per. 2005. “Man and Matter: A Philosophical Inquiry into the Justification of Ownership in Land from the Basis of Self-Ownership.” Master thesis, Lund University, spring semester (June);;;;

Bylund, Per. 2012. “Man and matter: how the former gains ownership of the latter.” Libertarian Papers, Vol. 4, No. 1;

Grotius, Hugo. 1625. Law of War and Peace (De Jure Belli ac Pacis), 3 volumes; translated by A.C. Campbell, London, 1814

Hoppe, Hans-Hermann. 1993. The Economics and Ethics of Private Property: Studies in Political Economy and Philosophy, Boston: Kluwer

Hoppe, Hans-Hermann. 2011. “Of Private, Common, and Public Property and the Rationale for Total Privatization,” Libertarian Papers Vol. 3, No. 1, pp. 1-13.

Kinsella, Stephan N. 2003. “A libertarian theory of contract: title transfer, binding promises, and inalienability” Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 17, No. 2, Spring, pp. 11–37;

Kinsella, Stephan N. 2009. “What Libertarianism Is.” August 21;

Kinsella, Stephan N. 2006. “How we come to own ourselves” September 7;

Kinsella, Stephan N. 2009. “Homesteading, Abandonment, and Unowned Land in the Civil Law.” May 22;

Locke, John. 1948. An Essay Concerning the True Origin, Extent and End of Civil Government, in E. Barker, ed., Social Contract, New York: Oxford University Press,

Locke, John. 1955. Second Treatise of Civil Government, Chicago: Henry Regnery

Paul, Ellen Frankel. 1987. Property Rights and Eminent Domain. Livingston, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers

Pufendorf, Samuel. 1673. Natural law and the law of nations (De officio hominis et civis prout ipsi praescribuntur lege naturali)

Rothbard, Murray N. 1973. For a New Liberty, Macmillan, New York;

Rozeff, Michael S. 2005. “Original Appropriation and Its Critics.” September 1.

Watner, Carl. 1982. “The Proprietary Theory of Justice in the Libertarian Tradition.” Journal of Libertarian Studies. Vol. 6, No. 3-4, Summer/Fall, pp. 289-316;

Here is my response to your question of lopping off the apple, and how far apart do the carrot plants have to be:

Block, Walter and William Barnett II. 2008. “Continuums” Journal Etica e Politica / Ethics & Politics, Vol. 1, pp. 151-166, June;;


4:52 pm on July 19, 2016