Philosophical Foundations Of Poverty And Distribution

Any Lockeian scholar would be lying if they told you that any topic in
the secondary literature on the Two Treatises of Government was more famous (or
infamousÉdepending on who you talk to), widely debated, or caused more
controversy than the old Oxford gradÕs theory of property. Some are shouting
from the left that Locke argues a rights claim for subsistence for all
individuals, that it may even support MarxÕs theory of exploitation. Yelling
back are those from the right who claim that he formulates a moral
justification for capitalist appropriation of property. Then of course there
are those somewhere in between who are telling everyone to shut up because
Locke wrote the damn thing over three hundred years ago in the political
context of 17th century England and to derive these kinds of modern political
presumptions is ludicrous. They all make fine cases for their respective
theories. This humble treatise, however, will merely essay to provide a fairly
objective explanation of John LockeÕs disputed offering to the political and
economic understanding of property and how it relates to poverty and the
distribution of wealth. It will then continue to examine the two most
preeminent, contemporary champions of welfarist and entitlement theories in
that of John Rawls and Robert Nozick respectively, focusing specifically on
what they, standing on LockeÕs shoulders, offer as an acceptable system of
economic justice.
Locke begins by stating that each person has a natural right to preserve his or
her life. "God has given the Earth to all people in common for their
sustenance." (Locke 310). In the state of nature, each person owns everything
in nature equally with everyone else. However, some things in nature must be
"appropriated" in order for one to derive any sustaining benefit from them. As
an example, Locke says one must take possession of acorns or apples in order to
eat them and, so, derive sustenance from them. But one must do something
positive in order to appropriate the acorns or apples and, thus, make them
one\'s own. A person possesses his or her own body and the actions of that body.
One owns oneself. By virtue of exercising the labor of one\'s body in
conjunction with the machinations of nature on land held in common by mankind,
one removes a thing from the state of nature and makes it one\'s own. Locke says
that one\'s labors puts a "distinction" between oneself and the rest of mankind
in relation to the object of one\'s labors. The rights of the individual as
expressed in one\'s labors creates private rights.
Ownership comes out of the appropriation of land and the mixing of labor into
the appropriated land. This originates in the state of nature where there is no
government above the individual to impede their efforts to use and hold onto
their property nor regulate trade between buyers and sellers. Natural freedom,
according to Locke, is to live within the bounds of natural law (reason) which
are respected in the state of nature as the right to enjoy the product of one\'s
labor and protect its use.
This does not mean, however, that every person has a right to remove from
nature everything that he or she wills. There are limits to what may be
appropriated from nature. First, something may be appropriated from nature so
long as it is enjoyed. Next, one may appropriate to the point of spoilage or
destruction. It is a limit because the properties that were spoiled or
destroyed should have remained common property. As common property, another
person could have mixed his or her labors with nature, thus taking it his or
her property.
In terms of land, one takes possession of land by improving it. It is owned to
the extent that one can manage the land and use its products, and is subject to
the same limitations as the other things one can appropriate from nature
through his labors. God has commanded that it be so to the extent that He
commanded mankind to labor over the earth. And regardless of one\'s
appropriation of land, there is so much land left in common that the affect of
appropriating the land is negligible. Indeed, when one cultivates his land, one
increases the "common stock" of mankind by creating an abundance of product,
when compared to leaving the same land to nature. Thus any amount that is
cultivated beyond one\'s needs can be used to supply the needs of others. That
portion of one\'s lands which produces the surplus remains somewhat in the
possession of the rest of mankind. The rest