Property taxes: sovereign usury?

June 11, 2015 § 52 Comments

Lots of folks have suggested that fiat currencies and fractional reserve banking create fake economic value out of nothing and are therefore, if not usury strictly speaking, somewhere in the moral vicinity of usury.  So far when this has come up in discussion it has turned out that critics of both don’t really understand either.  The former are options issued by the government which allow the bearer to settle tax liabilities; the ‘created money’ in the latter are options against the balance sheets of banks, denominated in the former.  There is nothing usurious going on and no creation of fake wealth except to the extent that the balance sheets of banks carry usurious (as opposed to nonrecourse) loans.  This should be at least mildly familiar territory to anyone who has read and understood the Usury FAQ.

But there is one kind of government activity that does bear close resemblance to usury: the levying of property taxes.

Here is a (slightly modified) comment I left on Kristor’s Orthosphere post (which itself is less about property tax than it is a preamble to another subject, the beginning of what I hope will be a series of posts well worth following):

Another prudential reason to oppose property taxes is that they encourage treating all property as liquid and fungible, discouraging ownership of anything illiquid and making ownership of illiquid things into something less than real ownership.

Property taxes are like the sovereign’s version of usury: the sovereign demands a fixed percentage repeatedly every tax period until the owner is destitute, independent of the owner’s actual fortunes during the period. The sovereign qua publican doesn’t care about the owner’s fortunes a bit: he just demands his pound of flesh every year.

Transaction taxes (sales, income, VAT, etc) on the other hand are one-time levies directly tied to the activities and fortunes of the person taxed — including property owners, because property owners who work, invest, and buy goods and services in the inevitable struggle against entropy pay transaction taxes when they do those things.

Property tax in contrast is not merely a form of economic double-jeopardy: it is a form of economic infinite-jeopardy.   If property were a bucket of water, transaction taxes represent taking a scoop of water every time the bucket changes hands in public commerce.  Property taxes represent a hole in the bottom of the bucket, a limitless demand against property owners, in effect making the sovereign into the property owner and the notional “owners” into rent-paying tenants.  (Some folks might like it that way — but they ought to be forthright about the fact that their preferred social arrangement involves de-facto abolishment of private property).

More generally, taxes on nonexistent transactions in illiquid property are inherently unjust.  Property taxes are a particularly egregious species of this tax genus, because they repeat ad infinitum.

None of this excuses the property owner from his duty to steward his property well for the sake of the common good and those more directly in his care, of course — just as the sovereign’s authority does not excuse him from his duty to rule over his subjects well for the sake of the common good and those directly subject to him.

But it seems to me that deposing kings and stripping owners of all of their property (even when you rent it back to them) are serious matters requiring serious reasons, not to be undertaken in the ordinary course of things. The sovereign’s title to already-owned private property (as distinct from taking a share in public transactions) is like the poor man’s title to bread. I don’t think it is surprising that folks who are fond of democracy often tend to be fond of property taxes: they both reflect inherently brittle and cavalier modern attitudes about authority, where kingship and ownership are both forms of authority.

§ 52 Responses to Property taxes: sovereign usury?

  • William Luse says:

    When the sovereign levies a property tax, he’s taxing the appraised value of my home and the land it sits on at a moment in time. Correct? If he can do this, why can’t he tax my bicycle, my car, my lawnmower, or a painting hanging inside the home? In short, anything over which I claim to have ownership? What principle would prevent this?

    (Property taxes in this city are going up 17% this year. I can’t tell you how I hate them.)

  • Carnivore says:

    @William Luse – he can tax your bicycle, etc. Taxes on movable, man-made objects are called personal property taxes.

  • Kristor says:

    Bill: My firm in San Francisco owns no real estate. The City has a workaround: we must pay a tax each year to the City on the value of all our real assets – equipment, office supplies on hand, and so forth.

    Meanwhile the State of California collects a Use tax. It never ends.

  • Zippy says:

    That brings to mind the Alternative Minimum Tax, a tax on unrealized capital gains and the cause of no small number of wrecked lives and even suicides. There is a whole genus of “taxes on nothing” which seem to mirror usury’s “rent for nothing”.

  • Kristor says:

    There is a general theory of immoral transactions in there somewhere – not just economic, but of any sort: an immoral transaction tries to take explicit ostensive account, and exact a price for, something that does not actually exist.

  • Kristor says:

    So an immoral transaction would carry into practice a false proposition about reality. It is a lie implemented in word *and* deed.

  • Mike T says:

    What principle would prevent this?

    There is no such principle. The reason they choose to tax real estate (and in states like Virginia, vehicles too) is that it accomplishes the tax without being sufficiently onerous that people would either engage in Greek/Italian level tax evasion or rise up in open revolt. In order to enforce it, 4th amendment violations that make those spawned by the War on Drugs look modest would be necessary and rampant.

    I would add to Zippy’s list that property taxes are also a very anti-middle and lower class form of taxation. That is especially true of Virginia’s form which extends to all vehicles. There is something particularly unjust about a tax which can recognize that a man has been rendered unemployed and then strip him of his home and means of getting to work. I’m sure there are some sophists that would argue that all taxes can do that, but the fact remains that all other taxes are avoided or implicitly applied within the means of someone who has lost his job. No income means no income tax; a man who can’t buy goods doesn’t pay transaction taxes. Yet a poor man who happens to still own his house and car can be forced to pay taxes on them.

  • Zeb says:

    Couldn’t property tax be pitched legitimately as fee for service? A large portion of the state’s expenses go to protecting and adjudicating property rights – is it really immoral to expect one to pay for that service according to one’s use of it?

    Would your argument also make a head tax immoral, and even more so?

  • Zippy says:

    The analogy may have a kind of at-first-glance intuitive appeal, but it immediately breaks down right where it would need to hold up in order to apply. Precisely what is at issue is authority: the capacity to create moral obligations. Both the sovereign and property owners have authority, and what is at issue is precisely the limits of the sovereign’s authority to tax: his capacity to create a moral obligation on the part of subjects to pay.

    Service providers do not have the authority to morally oblige you to purchase their service at all, let alone at whatever price they demand.

  • Mike T says:


    Law enforcement is actually not a very significant expense. For example, my state spends less than 10% of its entire budget on law enforcement. Even if property taxes were moral, they wouldn’t be necessary to fund law enforcement functions. Not only do the other taxes more than cover that, but the legal system is very effective at raising revenue via fines and seizures.

    The main use for property taxes is public education, not law enforcement. Therefore many people are paying taxes for services from which they derive no direct benefit.

  • William Luse says:

    The main use for property taxes is public education, not law enforcement. Therefore many people are paying taxes for services from which they derive no direct benefit.

    That seems right to me, Mike T. Whatever use it goes to, it’s an endless source of money for the local sovereign. I can’t think of another like it. Maybe “tax” is not the proper name for it.

  • Mike T says:

    If you look at the link I provided, Virginia spends over 6x more money on education than law enforcement. It’s likely that a night watchman state + public infrastructure could be funded entirely on our main excise taxes. I bet that is true of most states. It would have to be in states like Maryland (Baltimore spends over $17k/student/year).

    Another thing that makes the fee for “service” wrong as a defense is that the SCOTUS has ruled that you have no individual right to protection. Full stop. Anyone arguing that you are even buying security for your home, aside from the general threat of police intervention offered to society at large, is literally arguing from an incontrovertibly false legal position. Whether you are poor or rich, the police have precisely the same quid pro quo obligation to protect your property: none.

    On a different tangent, vishmehr24 is on that thread trying to argue that the West could not have possibly been settled by a horde of settler families because isolated families on the frontier couldn’t possibly survive for long in an “un-pacified territory.” This is the natural fruit of being a slave to one’s pet political theories.

  • Zeb says:

    You have to count more than law enforcement, there is also the administration of property claims: deeds filing, records storage, adjudication, etc. And I think the question is not whether that’s what property tax pays for somewhere now or whether it is a smart way to pay for it, but whether property tax is in principal a just way to pay for establishment, maintenance and protection of property rights. It seems fair to me simply because it is distributed proportionately according to the value of the property served.

    But Zippy raises the question of whether property tax is just based on authority. If the property owner has sole authority over the property and the sovereign had none and thus a sovereign cannot create and obligation to pay property tax, then what does a sovereign have authority over?

  • Zippy says:


    If the property owner has sole authority over the property …

    It isn’t a question of sole authority (where, I reiterate, authority is understood to be a capacity to create moral obligations). The owner of bread does not have sole authority over that bread in the presence of a starving man.

    It is a question of whether a property owner has any authority at all which is not merely derivative from the sovereign’s authority.

    If the sovereign has the authority to take the entire value of the property from the owner in the ordinary course of things (when there has been no wrongdoing on the part of the owner) – that is, if property taxes are a morally licit exercise of sovereign authority – then the owner’s “authority” over the property is purely at the sufferance of the sovereign. De facto the sovereign really – as a moral matter of entitlement – owns everything, and the owner’s authority is merely a delegation of sovereign authority.

    As a reactionary authoritarian I believe that there are all sorts of disparate incommensurable authorities under the natural law. Fathers have authority, sovereigns have authority, patriarchs have authority, property owners have authority, etc — and these are not reduceable to each other. Said differently, it is wrong for one authority to arbitrarily interfere in the operations of a different authority when the second has done no wrong.

    But property taxes are exactly that: not a transaction tax, one-time levy against a transaction (typically carried out in the sovereign’s own currency – “give unto Caesar”); but a reduction of the authority of private ownership to tenancy, sharecropping at the sufferance of the sovereign.

    I’ve written before about how a monolithic view of authority is one of the more subtle errors of modernity. It seems to me that even folks who don’t agree with the arguments I’ve made on this subject could benefit from attempting to grasp them, and that the bulk of criticisms so far have not managed to demonstrate an adequate grasp of what is being argued.

    This no doubt is in part a function of how I express things, and I am grateful for comments which help me refine that expression.

  • Carnivore says:

    No one has mentioned it, but there’s the distinction of different types of ownership or title which plays into this. Property is typically owned fee simple. It is subject to not only property taxes but also eminent domain. Instead of fee simple, there’s allodial title which is not subject to any higher authority. With allodial title, property cannot be confiscated because of nonpayment of taxes. This is essentially a theoretical concept these days since very few states (in the USA) even recognize allodial title. It would be very interesting to read of the historical concept of different types of ownership, imposition of taxes and the Church’s view of its morality.

  • Zeb says:

    Carnivore that was going to be my next question to Zippy, would the same problem exist if the state taxed property but could not confiscate it? Can the state create a moral obligation to pay an annual percentage of the value of the property but only enforce that obligation if and when the owner holds currency? And again, what about head tax? It seems like basically the same thing, an infinite liability, but in no way proportional to a person’s capacity to pay. A head tax seems even more like usury than a property tax because at least property tax liability terminates with the termination of the owner’s title to the property.

  • Zippy says:

    My thought on the different kinds of titles is that they probably can’t make the difference between licit exercise of sovereign authority and illicit. Basically the same sort of reasoning as applies to bankruptcy protection in the Usury FAQ would apply here.

    Differences in titles – in how the sovereign formally recognizes ownership – could only really make a moral difference to the extent that the sovereign’s authority is prior to the owner’s under the natural law. But that is precisely what is at issue.

    Head taxes would have to be analyzed independently, and not having given them much thought I don’t have a well formed view, or even a set of well formed arguments for and against. Superficially there may seem to be a similarity, but unlike property taxes they do not represent total confiscation of what is taxed – the person in this case – over time. I am temperamentally inclined to argue against them, but not willing to do so flippantly — and in any case it isn’t as if they are common practice today.

    It would be interesting if there were any Magisterial-level doctrinal statements from the Church about property taxes specifically, and I haven’t done the due diligence required to rule out the possibility. But offhand I’d be more surprised if there were than if there were not. The second most common complaint about the Church is that it doesn’t tell us what to think about a particular subject (the most common being that the Church is always telling us what to think).

  • Mike T says:


    Law enforcement includes the court system as a whole, including the maintenance of relevant public records. Furthermore, some of the things you cited are paid for by hefty one time taxes and user fees at the time of title transfer.

    Property rights adjudication falls into the civil court system as a whole; it has no separate system of its own. That system produces taxable income for the party that wins an arbitrated dispute. Such court cases are also not that expensive for the government since the government is only providing the facilities, jury and judge. The government also reaps a generous bounty of income taxes from the results of its civil court caseload.

    It seems fair to me simply because it is distributed proportionately according to the value of the property served.

    Except that it isn’t. Aside from squatters, people don’t steal real estate. They may at best infringe upon various rights associated with it. The threat of theft simply isn’t comparable to what finds with other forms of property. Property taxes don’t distinguish between a mansion that is furnished with Ikea furniture and decorations and one that is furnished with furniture and decoration worth a small fortune. If you want to raise the issue of protecting rights, then the latter should pay substantially more taxes because there is substantially more property value to protect.

    (If you think my example is hypothetical, then come to the DC area. We have quite a few neighborhoods with million dollar homes whose driveways are occupied by old, crappy cars)

  • Mike T says:


    Another point I want to address is Zippy’s points about the state eating up the value of the property through taxation. The defense of property taxes offered by many is that while the value is eaten up in degrees, the nominal owner under the law still maintains the full utility of the property. It boils down to the belief that even though you may tax the heck out of the real market value of the property and render it worthless several times over upon sale, at least the owner can use it.

    Consider what would happen if the state decided to treat financial instruments this way. Suppose they taxed stock with property taxes. The argument would be that you’d get to keep the actual use of the stock as a claim on the corporation’s assets, voting rights and claim to whatever dividends they offer. It’s not hard to see how this could render a stock portfolio effectively worthless as a means of investment.

  • Karl says:


    This has nothing to do with this current post so feel free to delete this comment if you wish.
    I just wanted to inform you that my wife has withdrawn her appeal of
    the first instance decision issued by the tribunal of the Archdiocese of New York back in the autumn of 2013 in which they found that nullity had not been proven, in her case in which she claimed to have positively decided against our marriage before she spoke her vows in public in front of both of our families and in the witness of a Catholic priest back in January 1980. She had proffered SIMULATION of her vows when she filed this SECOND nullity case. Kindly, the Judicial Vicar of the Archdiocese notified me earlier. I received the official written, sealed notice two days ago. I conjecture that had Father Welch, the Judicial Vicar, been the Judicial Vicar where my wife filed
    her original petition in 1991, the petition would have been rejected, no case begun and very possibly our marriage might have survived and along with it, perhaps, my faith might have recovered. But, who knows?
    After having defended our marriage twice before Catholic Tribunals, since my wife abandoned it long ago, I am left an old man, mostly alone, with little or no faith remaining; although I cannot seem to muster the resolve to jettison the vestiges of what I once, earnestly, attempted to believe and to practice…..Catholicism/Christianity. It is cowardice which keeps me tethered. I lack the courage to take the stand that God, if he truly exists and if he truly is perfectly just and merciful, will forgive, even, the loss of my faith. So, likely, although I rarely attend Mass and never participate in the sacraments these days, I will, in abject fear of the unknown on my deathbed, ask for a priest for my final send off.

    How pathetic. Our children and grandchildren deserve better ancestors.


  • Zippy says:


    I am not in a position to argue with your self-assessment, but other possibilities than cowardice do come to mind.

    The peddlers of pseudo-mercy have a lot to answer for, to be sure.

  • Elspeth says:

    Excellent post, Zippy. Well, well done.

  • The Practical Conservative says:

    Squatters are a huge problem. They pretty much subvert all the supposed utility of property taxes.

  • Mike T says:

    My observation is that the defense of property taxation comes from two angles:

    1. Raw defense of sovereign authority as paramount over individual property owner claims.*
    2. Those who believe that society is being imposed upon by property owners who need their claims protected, so naturally property owners should pay according to their level of property that is to be protected.

    Another observation is that both groups seem to be immune to actual legal facts like the state disavowing any real duty to provide security whatsoever to any particular paying property holder. So all rhetoric about paying for protection is ever so much legal nonsense and as disconnected from reality as laws concerning when and where you can tie up your pet alligator to a fire hydrant.

    * Hilarity always ensues when these same statists then have to back pedal when the question of Socialism comes up. If the King has a superior claim that allows taxation of property ownership, which intrinsically entails the confiscation of value over time, then there is simply no complaint except “you’re being a big meanie” when Socialists just outright seize the full value. Truly, this is an all or nothing thing. He that has the natural authority to consume 1% of the value each year over a century has the same authority to consume 100% in a week.

  • josh says:

    Zippy, I was wondering if I saw you (or more accurately your truck) today. I don’t want to dox you, but do you drive a truck with some very Catholic bumper stickers and tags that would make me guess that it was your truck.

  • Zippy says:

    Hello Josh,
    My trucks (and car) don’t sport any bumper stickers, so it wasn’t me.

  • josh says:

    oh. I can just say then that tag read “Zippy” and it sported stickers for several Catholic orders and organizations . Perhaps it was a fan.

  • Zippy says:

    Hah that’s pretty funny. But not me, and most likely nothing to do with me.

  • oogenhand says:

    Reblogged this on oogenhand.

  • Scott says:

    Love this one. I think I will link it to some friends. Property tax feels like rent to me. I am paying the government for use of the land one inch below my land, forever. If I don’t I can ultimately lose my land. How is that different from rent?

  • Mike T says:

    If I don’t I can ultimately lose my land. How is that different from rent?

    It’s different from rent, but different in the way that a dog is different from a wolf, rather than how a dog is different from a giraffe which is how the defenders of the system would like us to view the distinction.

  • […] authorities this particular authority is inherently limited.  (We’ve discussed some possible moral limitations on the sovereign’s authority to tax […]

  • vetdoctor says:

    I’ll keep looking but I wonder what the source of authority for real estate property rights is?

  • Zippy says:


    Here is Rerum Novarum:

    5. It is surely undeniable that, when a man engages in remunerative labor, the impelling reason and motive of his work is to obtain property, and thereafter to hold it as his very own. If one man hires out to another his strength or skill, he does so for the purpose of receiving in return what is necessary for the satisfaction of his needs; he therefore expressly intends to acquire a right full and real, not only to the remuneration, but also to the disposal of such remuneration, just as he pleases. Thus, if he lives sparingly, saves money, and, for greater security, invests his savings in land, the land, in such case, is only his wages under another form; and, consequently, a working man’s little estate thus purchased should be as completely at his full disposal as are the wages he receives for his labor. But it is precisely in such power of disposal that ownership obtains, whether the property consist of land or chattels. Socialists, therefore, by endeavoring to transfer the possessions of individuals to the community at large, strike at the interests of every wage-earner, since they would deprive him of the liberty of disposing of his wages, and thereby of all hope and possibility of increasing his resources and of bettering his condition in life.

  • myth buster says:

    Excise taxes would be fee-for-service, and indeed, these are what I advocate replacing property taxes with. Impose a flat fee on landline and cellular telephone service to pay for emergency services, and assess percentage taxes on electricity, natural gas, cable/satellite television and internet service for school funding and other local government revenue. You may notice that all of these things are things people can live without, but not comfortably. This way, the users of the services pay for them with their utilities, the worst that can happen for non-payment is your utilities are turned off, and those who are adamant about not paying taxes can do so by living without modern technology.

  • […] Property taxes are of a different character.  A property tax is not a tax on a particular transaction within […]

  • ignacy says:


    Do you believe that the power of the sovereign to tax his subjects depends only on his role as a marketplace provider?

    Can the sovereign lay claim on transactions performed by his subjects beyond his territorial jurisdiction (or without the usage of his tax vouchers)? I assume that such transactions are beyond the market he provides, but that assumption may be a mistake.

    Also, I’m most definitely not a defender of property taxes and I agree with your argumentation that it is simply taking the property and renting it back to the ‘owner’, but I wonder if the sovereign can impose obligations to pay by providing some action that contributes to common good and require the property owners to contribute?

    This could work in an analogous fashion as in the case of the owner of a large building, in which there are apartments not owned by him, and this owner decides on fixing or improving the staircase. Can he require apartment owners to participate in the costs? If yes, how?

  • Zippy says:


    Do you believe that the power of the sovereign to tax his subjects depends only on his role as a marketplace provider?

    Definitely not.

    Can the sovereign lay claim on transactions performed by his subjects beyond his territorial jurisdiction (or without the usage of his tax vouchers)?

    Yes. They are his subjects, and the sovereign-subject relationship can no more be reduced to economics alone than the father-son relationship. A sovereign can command his subjects to die for their country and, assuming various conditions on his authority are met, those commands can be morally binding.

    Funny you should mention an apartment building – it is a similar situation with a homoeowner’s association in a developed neighborhood. In those situations the various obligations are established ahead of time by contract, and the terms of the contract cannot be modified without renegotiation and consideration.

    But my model for sovereign/subject is more akin to father/son, tribe/patriarch, etc.

    A father can demand much of his sons, depending on circumstances. But absent emergency circumstances he still owes his sons respect for their own private households, holdings, etc. It is a species of lie for a father to pretend that his sons hold private property when in fact it is simply the father’s property which he rents to his sons.

    So on one view the immorality of property taxes arises from the fact that it is a species of lie about where true ownership lies.

    But, truth be told, I am still open to being convinced that property taxes are not immoral even under ordinary circumstances. I just think that the arguments that they are, so far, are better arguments.

  • ignacy says:

    Definitely not.

    Could you please provide examples of other titles? Of course, I do not expect the list to be complete. Just for the sake of deepening my understanding.
    I do subscribe to the state as ‘family writ large’ model. I’m just asking this because it is not that frequent situation to see fathers demanding constant stream of revenues collected in a formalized fashion from their sons 🙂

  • Zippy says:


    Could you please provide examples of other titles?

    Not really — I haven’t really thought about that. I just decline to affirm their categorical nonexistence.

    I’m just asking this because it is not that frequent situation to see fathers demanding constant stream of revenues collected in a formalized fashion from their sons.

    Agreed. Intuitively it seems quite perverse.

  • Hrodgar says:

    The state demanding a constant stream of revenues in a formalized fashion, or at least, in the formalized fashion we generally refer to as taxes, is not something that has always and everywhere been the case.

    In England, for instance, I’m given to understand that pre-Reformation, taxes were generally restricted to wars and other situations of similar moment; the bulk of the king’s income was from the revenue of his estates, although there may have been tariffs and similar privileges augmenting it. Henry VIII began claiming the tithes (Mary stopped the practice, but not for long), and taxes over and beyond that got gradually heavier and more regular as time went by, especially once a national “debt” with the corresponding apparent necessity of paying interest on it was established.

    I’m basing that understanding largely on William Cobbett and he is a bit polemical and prone to exaggeration, so I’m open to correction on the particulars, but it is certainly the case that annual taxes are not the only way for a sovereign to fund his operations.

    Perhaps this is another instance where liberalism has led to tyranny? Just spitballing here, but perhaps now that the sovereign has no revenue-producing properties of his own of any note, he effectively lays claim to all property within his jurisdiction? Only, like most forms of authority this claim must be hidden, so we have as “taxes” what in a more honest polity would be the rents.

  • ignacy says:

    In those situations the various obligations are established ahead of time by contract, and the terms of the contract cannot be modified without renegotiation and consideration.

    True. Though, the contract cannot in principle address all possible situations. Is there a morally default way to solve the issues then?

  • Zippy says:

    Perhaps this is the case (as a straw proposal):

    Under ordinary circumstances, the sovereign’s title to taxes from his subjects derives from his ownership (regulation and defense) of sovereign marketplaces. Asserting titles beyond this limit is a violation of justice.

    Under threat of war or other existential threat, that is, in extraordinary circumstances, this may expand in a manner proportionate to the threat. The justice of this depends upon the objective circumstances.

    Oddly, this raises a comparison between regular property taxes and pervasive ‘extraordinary eucharistic ministers’.

  • ignacy says:

    I believe that your proposal is reasonable. To further clarify: how is the sovereign market constructed? Which transactions are considered taken within its boundaries? We agreed before that it does not have territorial limits. Does it entail any transaction conducted by the subjects? Or any transaction between the subjects?

    Also, how does the sovereign marketplace overlap with the marketplaces of local vassals, municipalities or princes? Are these marketplaces just branches of the sovereign marketplace, or they have a standing of their own (e.g. being the ownership of the local vassals)? If they have a standing of their own – much as e.g. municipal factories or utilities – does this mean that municipalities can issue their own currency and ban of these is a breach of subsidiarity?

    Oddly, this raises a comparison between regular property taxes and pervasive ‘extraordinary eucharistic ministers’.

    Even more oddly, even the very term ‘extraordinary eucharistic minister’ is itself an abuse (Redemptoris Sacramentum, 156). The proper name is ‘Extraordinary minister of Holy Communion’.

  • Zippy says:


    Those are all interesting questions.

  • ignacy says:

    Attempting to answer these interesting questions, I have the following observations:

    If the sovereign can lay claim on transactions generated without the use of his currency or outside his property registers, then it is difficult to maintain that the justification for these claims are that he provides a marketplace within which the transactions take place.

    It can be said that every transaction made by his subjects are within his marketplaces. This argument may hold, but it seems like a subsidiarity-killer (in an analogous fashion to a sovereign as a sole property owner). It excludes any possibility of local municipalities being marketplace providers on its own – their existence is possible only as branches of the sovereign marketplace.


  • Zippy says:


    As usual I don’t claim to have a comprehensive or even especially adequate theory, but my basic view of authority (and the related subjects of subsidiarity and solidarity) can be thought of as family fractal (as opposed to daycare fractal). The family-fractal model works reasonably well because family relationships are things we all tend to understand fairly intuitively despite their hierarchy and complexity.

    Hierarchy and complexity – subsidiarity and solidarity – pervade the experience of family. Father, husband, son, daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, wife, mother, cousin, son who becomes a priest, daughter who becomes a nun, etc.

    So I would object to this characterization as reductive, in particular the phrase ‘on its own’:

    It excludes any possibility of local municipalities being marketplace providers on its own – their existence is possible only as branches of the sovereign marketplace.

    A local municipality is indeed a marketplace provider in its own right, just as a son can be a father in his own right, if you will. But you don’t get fathers without grandfathers: more generally you don’t get families without patriarchs, no matter how desperate modern people are to separate themselves from their patriarchy.

    This in its own right does not imply a radical or atomized independence, as modern people conceive it.

    A son in a foreign land remains a son, and when he operates economically in a foreign land he quite tangibly and literally represents an extension of his father’s legacy (he would not exist at all as a market actor if his father had not brought him into the world in the first place).

    In other words, as a moral matter, when it comes to authority, there is no “exit” understood as a natural completed act of personal autonomy, in any domain whatsoever.

    A family or clan may be destroyed, often enough as a consequence of the actions of its patriarchs. But as long as the tribe is intact, wherever there are members of the tribe the authority of the tribe persists. Loyalty is only “optional” in the same sense that obedience is optional.

    (The kids these days have an inchoate beginning of an inadequate grasp of this when they observe that there is no ‘magic dirt’. Traditionalists have recognized this for millennia as the ‘blood’ part of ‘blood, soil, and cross’).

  • ignacy says:


    Indeed (although I am a repentant ex-libertarian) what I had in mind was ‘in its own right’ rather than ‘on its own’ as interpreted in individualist or libertarian fashion.

    Consider: the son may live in his father’s house as well as in his own house. If he lives in his own house that doesn’t make him any less a son, but his degree of authority over his living arrangements is considerably greater. Of course, both above situations are acceptable and justifiable (in certain circumstances), but only in the second situation we may say that he has a household ‘in its own right’.

    This analogy may apply to marketplaces. If a marketplace is an ontologically real asset, there must be some limits or boundaries, which allow us to distinguish between just being a branch of an overall sovereign marketplace (analogous to occupying a room in a father’s house), and a marketplace over which a prince or municipality has a authority.

    The other analogy may be of sovereign state-wide utility corporation versus local utility provider, owned by municipality. The fact that municipality owns a utility (or other company, or land) does not allow the municipality to ‘exit’, but still marks a distinct source of authority.

    Again, what I want to stress that I believe both kinds of arrangement may be justifiable in certain circumstances, but to say that only the first is justifiable is analogous to parents who do not allow their son and his wife to move to a separate household. And in order to properly apply these analogies, I ask about and try to analyze what constitutes a marketplace (just as I could ask about what constitutes property or a household).

    I’m very much looking forward to your comments on that.

  • Zippy says:

    That all sounds quite reasonable to me, despite my search for quibbles.

  • […]  Real estate “owners”, then, don’t really own the actual property. The sovereign owns the property and what the “owners” really own is exclusive leasing rights: a kind of financial […]

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