A Landlord is Really a Type of Tax Collector

by Mike O'Mara

There is no basic difference between a tax collector and a landlord. Both have the following three traits:

1) Tax collectors and landlords each claim the right to collect revenue from all occupants of a given territory. This revenue is called "taxes" when collected by tax collectors, and is call "rent" when collected by landlords.

2) Occupants do not have the freedom to secede or to stop paying taxes or rent. Instead, they are told to "love it or leave it." Some governments may occasionally allow a region to secede, but it is not an automatic right. Similarly, a landlord may sometimes let an occupant secede, but only if the occupant buys his or her freedom, by purchasing some of the land, thereby obtaining freedom from paying rent to the landlord. This is like requiring an individual to pay the government a bribe in order to be allowed to secede.

3) Tax collectors and landlords each claim that the right to collect taxes or rent is based on a legal document. That legal document is called a "constitution"in the case of tax collectors and their governments, and is called a "deed" in the case of a landlord. But if the origins of constitutions or deeds are traced back, they are found to be based either on confiscation of territory from other people, or arbitrary territorial claims that rest on no legal principle that is clear and consistent.

In cases where the origins of such constitutions or deeds were based on confiscation of territory, does the passage of time eventually make them legitimate? If it does, then anyone who endorses allowing landlords to collect rent without interference or limit must also endorse allowing tax collectors to collect taxes without interference or limit.

In the few cases (if any) where a deed to land did not involve any confiscation from anyone during its history, the claim of ownership still does not rest on any clear and consistent legal principle. For example, suppose the legal principle is "first discoverer gets the land." But how much land can a person or government claim? Did the first person to enter North America have the right to claim the whole continent?

Or suppose the legal principle is "to claim land, mix your labor with it, such as by cultivating it, or fencing it." That principle might enable someone to own the top few inches of soil, and the fence itself. But how would it enable someone to own a mineral deposit twenty feet below the surface, or air space twenty feet above? Also, how much mixing of labor is required?

The only consistent principle of land titles seems to be the one proposed by Henry George and Thomas Paine: each individual has an equal right to land, since no person made the land (that is, spatial locations, or the natural resources there). If a person possesses more than an equal share of land value (based on location value, not the buildings there) that person is displacing others from land, and therefore owes them a displacement rent, equal to the difference between the total location value that person possesses and the per capita location value. Titles to land would then be compatible with liberty.

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