Fencing Someone In
Unjust Imprisonment or Valid Land Claims?
December 16, 2018
Mike O'Mara
Policy Maker

It's wrong to imprison someone if he or she hasn't committed a crime, according to people who say they are in favor of individual liberty.

But at some point, the more a person is fenced out of access to land, the more that resembles being fenced in.

For example, suppose ten people own a small island. Nine of them each own about the same amount of land on the island, and together they own a total of 99% of the island's land, while the tenth person only owns the other 1%. The other nine land owners each decide to build a high fence around their property. As a result, the tenth person is now fenced in, and can only move around within 1% of the island. So, in effect, he is imprisoned, even though he hasn't committed any crime.

Is that a case of false imprisonment, or a case of valid property rights? How could the other nine have a right to fence him in so as to result in imprisoning him?

In the case above, while the tenth person is fenced in so as to only have access to 1% of the island, suppose each of the nine had access to 11% of the island, totalling to 99%. But suppose instead they allowed him to move around within 5% of the island, instead of fencing him in so that he only had access to 1%? Or if they allowed him to move around within 7% of the island, while each of them could move around within more than 10%? At what point have they violated his rights by fencing him in?

The only consistent response is that the other nine should be obligated to either allow him to have as much right to move around as they have, or at least provide him with equivalent compensation. For example, they could provide him with compensation by paying him land rent for excluding him from having as much access to land as they do.

Preferably, compensation should be based on the value of the land, not the acreage, because different parts of the island have different access to natural resources, and different access to other valuable locations.

The conclusion, that the other land owners are each obligated to either allow the tenth person to have as much access to land value as they do, or provide him with equivalent compensation, can also be derived from John Locke's philosophy of property rights. Similarly, besides Locke, most of the classical authors who defended liberty advocated compensation for restricting individuals' access to land: for example, such authors as John Stuart Mill, Thomas Jefferson, Adam Smith, Thomas Paine, and others,  along with several modern prize-winning economists of left and right.

Any other version of property rights contradicts itself if it does not address the point above, about the matter of degree of fencing someone in.

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Mike O'Mara
Policy Maker

Mike O'Mara is a co-founder of the Democratic Freedom Caucus. The DFC is a pro-LVT caucus within the Democratic Party that advocates freedom-oriented policies, which go beyond left and right. Aside from individual liberty, constitutional democracy, and social repsonibility, the DFC promotes the public interest rather than favoritism to special interests, addressing the root causes of economic problems, building-in incentives for improving the quality and efficiency of public services, upholding civil liberties, and equal freedom for everyone, which are essential for human progress. They also endorse political candidates, lobby officials, and help educate voters on geo-issues while promoting land value taxation policy. With state contacts in most states, his goal is to form similar caucuses in the Green Party and also the Republican Party. Contact him at their website, Facebook page, or Facebook group for more information and to get involved. The DFC is also reachable through Twitter.