Front Page Titles (by Subject) Lockean Property and Social Welfare - Literature of Liberty, April/June 1978, vol. 1, No. 2
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Lockean Property and Social Welfare - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, April/June 1978, vol. 1, No. 2 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Lockean Property and Social Welfare
“Locke's Theory of Property.” Interpretation 5 (1975): 226–244.
Locke's theory of property does not yield a society dedicated to laissez-faire capitalism but rather a modest form of social welfare socialism. This thesis is an interpretation of Locke's Two Treatises of Government, particularly Chapter 5 of the second Treatise, and sections 41–43 and 86–90 of the first Treatise. Locke believed that the rights to life, liberty, and property were “natural,” existing in the state of nature before civil or political society. But this does not mean that such rights “can never be overridden by the competing rights of some other person or group.” They are rather provisional or prima facie rights.
Property originates, Locke argued, when man mixes his honest labor with nature and thereby owns the product of his labor and is free to transfer this legitimate possession to others. Locke, however, does not endorse the labor theory of value in the sense that the economic value of labor alone determines what it produces.
But what are the limits of property acquisition for Locke? Two passages from the second Treatise are crucial. (1) “As much as any one can make use of to any advantage of life before it spoils; so much he may by his labour fix a Property in. Whatever is beyond this, is more than his share, and belongs to others.” And (2) a man has a right to acquire as much property as he can, provided that “there is enough, and as good left in common for others.” The concept of spoilage is not essential. After interpretation, we can restate the Lockean Proviso of these two texts as: “This limit ... is that no one has a right to possess something he does not use, regardless of whether or not it spoils in his possessions, if his possession of it prevents others who could and would use it from doing so.”
A further refinement of Locke's limit to property would forbid anyone from acquiring so much wealth in any society that he prevents others from acquiring those possessions necessary to live at a “decent” standard of living, given the total resources of society. A decent standard of living would be those possessions and opportunities that would enable each person to live a happy life in that society, and to develop whatever talents and potentialities are compatible with other members of the society. This would justify social welfare legislation such as minimum wages, a redistributive income tax, and unemployment compensation. Furthermore, Locke's theory implies that an employer's profit is just only if it is not so large as to deprive his employees of a decent living wage.
Property is rightful possession in Locke's analysis. From this, it might be inferred, that we must balance the claims to any man's possessions against the competing claims of fairness and right in social welfare. Two central assumptions here are: the belief that the Lockean right to property means a right to have property (not a right to attempt to have property); and a social utility interpretation of what qualifies as legitimate “use” of property.