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
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.
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
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.