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Common Property in Land

Types of Ownership

Henry George Institute

"We must make land common property," Henry George declared. Some of his followers felt that he had made a tactical mistake with that statement. What did he mean by it? Was he a "commonist"?

Basically there are three types of property: common, government and private.

Common property belongs to all people in common; it is that which all have an equal right to use and enjoy.

Government property belongs to the state and is subject to the direction of the government.

Private property is that which an individual (or group of individuals) has the exclusive right to own, profit from and dispose of as they see fit.

Common property is not the same as government property. Common property in the ocean is generally recognized; the ocean does not belong to any government. And common property is different from private property. Common property permits of private use, but implies an obligation to the community since the rights of others must be recognized.

By its very nature, land is common property and our laws and traditions already go far toward recognizing it as such. This is a fact that has been widely recognized by a surprising number of great thinkers of many cultures.

The principle of eminent domain asserts the superior claim of society to land. The New York State Constitution states: "The people of the State, in their right of sovereignty, possess the original and ultimate property in and to all lands within the jurisdiction of the State." English and American law generally recognize absolute ownership of goods - but not of land. The law deals with the land "owner" as a land holder - land is held under the sovereignty of the people and is subject to their conditions.

To achieve common property in land, Henry George proposed that the rent of land should be paid to the community. This payment expresses the exact amount that would satisfy the equal rights of all other members of the community. Individuals would retain title to land, fixity of tenure and undisturbed possession. This method of making land "common property" may also be called "conditional private property in land" (payment of rent to the community) as opposed to "absolute private property in land" (private collection of rent).

Henry George's Remedy

This article appeared earlier at the Henry George Institute web site.  

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