Liberty Matters

Peter Vallentyne’s Reply to Eric Mack

I have no disagreements with Eric’s excellent response to my commentary. I will here take the opportunity to reply, very briefly, to the three questions he raises at the end.
The first question concerns how the value of shares of natural resources is determined. I would defend an appeal to the competitive value (based on demand and supply) of the rights held over (unimproved) natural resources. There is some indeterminacy in this notion, but a suitable auction would be one example, as would be the market-clearing price in a suitable free market. This general approach is endorsed by Hillel Steiner and Henry George,[1] and some jurisdictions (e.g., Hong Kong, I believe) tax landowners on this basis.
Related to this is the third question, which concerns how raw natural resources could have any value apart from what people might do with them. I fully agree that their value so depends. The value of rights over some natural resources (e.g., beautiful beachfront) is higher than that of rights over other resources (e.g., ugly beachfront) precisely because there is more that people can or want to do with them.
The second, and remaining, question is why the value of natural resources should be shared equally. This is a more difficult question. If I were a moral realist, I would say that moral reality includes such a requirement (and of course I would need to justify this claim). I am not, however, a moral realist, and so I view this a matter of what moral principles we would endorse in a suitable reflective equilibrium (after much information gathering, reflection, discussion, etc.). I find full self-ownership plausible, but I also find a limited requirement for some form of substantive equality plausible. Some kind of egalitarian proviso on appropriation (and use) of natural resources seems like a plausible limited requirement. I fully recognize, however, that others (most others!) do not share this view. I thus view it, like all normative matters, as a matter for continued reflection and investigation. I should emphasize, however, that the issue of justification arises no matter what position one takes on the appropriation proviso. One can always ask why some specific proviso is the relevant one, rather than some other one, or none. The egalitarian proviso does not face, that is, any special burden of justification compared to other versions. They all face a very strong burden.
[1] Hillel Steiner, An Essay on Rights (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 1994). Henry George, Progress and Poverty (New York: Robert Schalkenbach Foundation, 1879). See the OLL edition: Henry George, Progress and Poverty: An Inquiry into the Cause of Industrial Depressions and of Increase of Want with Increase of Wealth, The Remedy (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Page, & Co. 1912). <>.