Just acquisition and transfer

Just acquisition and transfer How does one acquire property? How does one come to own something? How does one come to have property rights over something? Libertarians answer that property is acquired through just acquisition or just transfer.

7 Just acquisition is when you come to own something that was not previously owned. You can justly acquire something by finding something that is unowned or by making something with materials you own. So, for example, while scuba-diving in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, I found a seashell, which was unowned, so now I own it. Or, while fiddling on the guitar I came up with a song – that is, I made the song out of my own mind – and now I own it.

Just transfer is when you acquire something from someone else by receiving it as a gift, inheriting it, or exchanging for it. So I own my grandmother’s rocking chair, since I inherited it from her. I own a pair of earrings my aunt gave me for Christmas. And I own the computer on which I am writing, because I exchanged money for it at Best Buy. Work by itself does not create a property right. If I work on materials I own, I own what I make. But if I work on materials you own, I don’t come to own anything at all unless you agree to let me keep what I make, or unless you agree to pay me for my labor.

People often say that hard work should be rewarded – so, for example, people say that there should be a law ensuring that someone who works full time gets paid a living wage. Libertarians say the state should not interfere with voluntary arrangements between people who work and people who pay others for their labor. So long as no one is being forced, a voluntary agreement to clean for someone for $1 per hour, or less, or any amount, should be legal. (In other words, libertarians are against a mandatory minimum wage.)

Some people make a moral distinction between earned and unearned income and say that earned income should be treated more favorably by the state – taxed less, for example – because the state should reward people for hard work. Unearned income – from investments or inheritance, for example, should be taxed at a higher rate, they say, because the person who received it didn’t work for it. Other say the opposite!

They say that unearned income should be taxed less because it is likely to be reinvested and used to create jobs, which is good for everyone. Libertarians say it is not the job of the state to make these kinds of moral distinctions between earned and unearned income.

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