Locke's Proviso

Fred Foldvary

[Reprinted from a Land-Theory online discussion, January 1999]

If my understanding is correct, than there had not been "enough and as good" for many centuries before Locke was writing. I think there is a self-contradiction in Locke, but it is only implicit: a tendency to treat all land as of equal value when he uses the phrase "enough and as good" and a contrary tendency to recognize the difference in value of different locations when he speaks of "no hopes of commmerce with other parts of the world."

Do others read Locke differently than I? Cliff Cobb

A good reference regarding Locke is A Locke Dictionary by John Yolton, 1993`(The Blackwell Philosopher Dictionaries).

There is an entry for "property". Yolton (p. 183, "property") says Locke distinguished between having dominion (possession) and having full property as an owner (T1; First of Two Treatises, #39).

Yolton also says "Locke assures us that God would not give to anyone a property which would deny 'his needy Brother a Right to the Surplusage of his Goods" (T1, #88-90).

Yolton (pp. 184-6) then lists the steps of Locke's account:

1. God gave the world to men in common. (T2; Second Treatise, #26)

2. The fruits of nature are given to mankind in common.

3. Nobody has "private dominion" (exclusive of others) of natural products.

4. But to make use of products, there must be some way to appropriate them.

5. Thus there must be some individual rights to products.

6. Each man [human being] has a property right to his own person. (T2, #27)

7. Each person owns his own labor.

8. Mixing labor with the resources of nature creates an individual right to the product, so long as "there is enough and as good left in common for others". (T2, #27, cf. T1, #29).

9. What one adds to nature (improvements, products) belongs to the producer. (T2, #28).

10. Appropriating from what is common does not require the consent of others.

11. One may appropriate from nature so long as it is not wasteful (does not spoil).

12. Property in land is acquired the same as the products of nature, by mixing labor with land:

"As much Land as a Man Tills, Plants, Improves, Cultivates, and can use the Product of, so much is his Property." This is subject to the same proviso as #8. (T2, #32).

Locke was not clear on how the proviso of #8, which applies to #12, should work once there is not "as good" a land free for others. He acknowledged that much of the world was already populated (#36). However, he thought that in his time, good land was still available "since there is Land enough in the World so suffice double the Inhabitants". Locke also thought that most of the value of real estate was due to improvements. (#40, 44) Locke, perhaps fearing the implication of his proviso, added that money alters the situation, and since money gets its value from the "consent of Men", they have in effect "agreed to disproportionate and unequal Possession of the Earth" (#50).

Comment by Fred Foldvary:

Locke's logic becomes perverted by bringing in money; he seems to be troubled by the logical implication of his proviso (perhaps because the landed interests would be offended and cause him trouble?) and sought an escape through the twisted logic regarding money. It doesn't work. Now the population has way more than doubled, and even at the time of Locke, land of equal quality was no longer available in cities, for example. Locke is silent on the implementation of his proviso. Maybe he was afraid of the power of the big landonwers. At any rate, the geoist/Georgist interpretation is fully consistent with Locke's proviso, and the only one that really contronts it. We can reject Locke's backtracking related to money as logically unsound and contradictory to his sound logic regarding the proviso.