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The homestead principle in law is the concept that one can gain ownership of a natural thing that currently has no owner by using it or building something out of it. Along with self-ownership, the right to homestead is one of the foundations of Deontological libertarianism.
Mixing labor with land
In 1690, John Locke published "A Essay Concerning the true original, extent, and end of Civil Government", commonly known as his "Second Treatise On Government" , in which he supports the homestead principle. From his "Second Treatise":Though the earth and all inferior creatures be common to all men, yet every man has a "property" in his own "person." This nobody has any right to but himself. The "labour" of his body and the "work" of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever, then, he removes out of the state that Nature hath provided and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with it, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property.
Murray Rothbard argues in his work Justice and Property Rights that "All existing property titles may be considered just under the homestead principle, provided
- (a) that there may never be any property in people;
- (b) that the existing property owner did not himself steal the property; and particularly
- (c) that any identifiable owner (the original victim of theft or his heir) must be accorded his property".
Linda and Morris Tannehill argue in The Market for Liberty that physically claiming the land (e.g. by fencing it in or prominently staking it out) should be enough to obtain good title:An old and much respected theory holds that for a man to come into possession of a previously unowned value it is necessary for him to "mix his labor with the land" to make it his own. But this theory runs into difficulties when one attempts to explain what is meant by "mixing labor with land." Just how much labor is required, and of what sort? If a man digs a large hole in his land and then fills it up again, can he be said to have mixed his labor with the land? Or is it necessary to effect a somewhat permanent change in the land? If so, how permanent?...Or is it necessary to effect some improvement in the economic value of the land? If so, how much and how soon?...Would a man lose title to his land if he had to wait ten months for a railroad line to be built before he could improve the land?...And what of the naturalist who wanted to keep his land exactly as it was in its wild state to study its ecology?...[M]ixing one's labor with the land is too ill-defined a concept and too arbitrary a requirement to serve as a criterion of ownership.
Homesteading laws by governments
In the 19th century, a number of governments formalized the homestead principle by passing laws that would grant property of land plots of certain standardized size to people who would settle on it and "improve" it in certain ways (typically, built their residence and started to farm at least a certain fraction of the land). Typically, such laws would apply to territories recently taken from its indigenous inhabitants, and which the state would want to have populated by farmers. Examples:
- United States: Florida Armed Occupation Act (1842), Homestead Act (1862)
- Canada: Dominion Lands Act (1872)
- Australia: Crown Lands Acts (1861)
- Homestead exemption
- Positive law
- Possession as nine-tenths of the law
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