Origins of the State, Land and Population

In order to determine the origins of a State, one must have some conception of the nature of a State. Let us start with the Wikipedia entry for “State (polity).”

“A state is a compulsory political organization with a centralized government that maintains a monopoly on the legitimate use of force within a certain geographical territory.”

For my purposes, this definition will do. However, from my individual perspective, what is important to me and to everyone else, is the fact that we cannot occupy a piece of subsistence land for free, but must submit to the dictates of a centralized government.

How is the “State” different from a tribe, which also may prevent me from occupying a piece of land? Let us express the difference in the following way. If I am a member of a tribe, then I will be allowed to occupy a piece of land for free. But, if I am a member of a State, I will not be allowed to occupy a piece of land for free.

From this perspective, the question is: how is this transition from tribal free occupancy to a State non-free occupancy possible? This is the problem which has been labeled the problem of “primitive accumulation.”

One approach is to point out the difference in human natures. Some are gifted (i.e., intelligent, diligent, thrifty, etc.); others are not. OK, so the gifted will do better with their land holding than the less-gifted. Still, the less gifted will not work for the gifted unless their reward is equal or better than what they can accomplish on their own piece of land.

But the situation in a State is that many would be better off if they had access to free subsistence land; but they do not.

Despite the different theories of “State formation,”, only one is, for me, convincing. This is the conquest theory, which has been best formulated by Franz Oppenheimer in his book The State.

I urge the reader to read the book himself. The author is clear, brief, reasonable, and convincing. I will only focus on what to me is the convincing, deductive argument.

He starts with the following assumption:

“No one will work for another if he can do as well or better by living off subsistence land. All teachers of natural law, etc., have unanimously declared that the differentiation into income-receiving classes and propertyless classes can only take place when all fertile lands have been occupied. For so long as man has ample opportunity to take up unoccupied land, "no one," says Turgot, "would think of entering the service of another"; we may add, "at least for wages, which are not apt to be higher than the earnings of an independent peasant working an unmortgaged and sufficiently large property"; while mortgaging is not possible as long as land is yet free for the working or taking, as free as air and water. Matter that is obtainable for the taking has no value that enables it to be pledged, since no one loans on things that can be had for nothing.”

  1. Person x will not work for person y, if x can do as well or better on his own.
  2. x can do as well or better on his own, if he has free access to subsistence land
  3. There are z acres of available fertile land in the world.
  4. There are m number of people in the world
  5. z/m = g,
  6. In order to subsist, x must have access to h acres of land
  7. g > h
  8. Therefore, there is enough subsistence land for each person

Oppenheimer gives us the statistics for available land in Germany as well as in the world, at the time when he wrote (1914); concluding that there is ample land for everyone. But despite this, we are prevented from taking free occupancy by States.

The rest of the book is a narrative of conquests of one group of people by another. I need no further convincing, since the history of man is a history of war and conquest.

I want to conclude with the observation that since Oppenheimer wrote, we have a massive increase in populations and a decrease in available subsistence land. When Oppenheimer wrote, he gave 1.8 billion people in the world, and estimated 181 billion acres of available land, which would give each person roughly 100 acres. We have now 9 billion people, which, if that same amount of land were available, would give each person 20 acres, which is still sufficient for subsistence.

But this amount of land is not available. How much is available? Is there enough for subsistence for each person? If not, then this is my criterion for determining that we have an overpopulation problem. [That the problem can be solved by, let us say, vertical farming, is another matter.]

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