Liberty Matters

Eric Mack’s Reply to Peter Vallentyne 2


Peter Vallentyne’s nice brief response to the questions that I have posed has got me thinking about a standard move that “right-Lockeans” such as myself make in conversations with “left-Lockeans” like Peter. This move is to challenge the use of “natural resources” to describe the “raw stuff” (berries growing on bushes, fish swimming this way or that, that ugly sticky stuff that we now call proven reserves) that left-Lockeans say ought to be equally divided among persons or say (as Peter does) everyone should receive the equal blessings of either through equal shares being left for everyone or due compensation being paid to everyone for whom an equal share is not left.

I think this right-Lockeans challenge is based on the idea that, if there is some deep, natural, original, equal right with respect the earth, then that right must be a right to an equal share of that raw stuff or to have an equal share left for one or to be duly compensated if an equal share of the raw stuff is not left for one. Ten of us just find ourselves right next to a heap of ten yummy acorns. If there is a natural right to the earth, it seems that in this situation it would be a right of each to one of those acorns or to have one acorn left for one or to be duly compensated if one is not left for one.

But the earth is not one big heap of acorns. There are berries, fish, and that ugly sticky stuff. So the question always gets posed: In a world with different types of stuff, what counts as an equal share? And the answer that is always given by left-Lockeans (and that Peter gives) is: An equal share is (something like) a share of equal market price. Right-Lockeans tend to go along with this proposal about what would count as an equal share because they are so happy to hear a market-oriented answer.

But it now occurs to me that “right-Lockeans” should resist this move – this interpretation of equal shares. The reason for resisting is, I think, this: That which has market value is no longer merely a raw bit of the earth. That which gives any bit of the earth market value – people having views about how it can be made available for use and consumption, how it may be consumed, how it can be utilized for production, how it can be preserved for future use – makes it into a not-that-natural “resource.” Hence, whatever intuition there is on behalf of an equal division of the earth, i.e., of that raw stuff, or on behalf of compensation for those who do not get an equal share of the earth does not carry over to an equal division of “natural resources.”

The role of people and their beliefs and actions in determining how much of a natural resource any bit of the earth is (at any given moment of human history) seems to make any claim to an equal share of natural resources very different from a claim to an equal share of raw stuff. That is why it seems to me that calling for each person receiving a share of equal value or having such a share of equal value left for him or being compensated for not have a share of equal value left for him goes way beyond calling for each to share equally in the blessings of nature – whatever that equality would be.