Private Feudalism

Is Feudalism via Private Citizens Any Better than Feudalism via the Nobility?

How Much Land Should an Individual Private Citizen or Private Entity Be Allowed to Own?

The Founding Fathers we’re happy to escape feudalism. They set up protections so that land owned by private citizens could not be taken by the government or by other private citizens. (We’ll conveniently ignore eminent domain for this discussion.)

But what happens when private citizens/entities become the feudal land barons, taking more land than they need to live/work on, and using that excess land to charge rents to those in need of land? Should there be limits on the amount of land an individual private citizen or a private entity can own?

While the abundance of open land at the time our country was forming (conveniently ignoring the land controlled at that time by indigenous peoples) rendered these questions irrelevant, Thomas Jefferson did have the forsight to see that a return to feudalism, via private citizens, could one day come to fruition. In a 1785 letter to James Madison, Jefferson proposed a geometric property tax that would take the economic incentive out of hoarding land for the purpose of charging rents.¹

The lack of limits to the amount of land an individual private citizen/entity can own in the United States is a loophole that is fundamental to the housing crisis, to inequality, and, together with the Fed & mortgage industry, to our economic boom & bust cycles. Attempting to address any of these problems without fixing the feudal loophole is, well, futile.

So the question of the day is: How much land should an individual private citizen/entity be allowed to own? Should there remain no limit – one citizen/entity potentially owning all of the private land in the country? Or should, as was Abraham Lincoln’s view, one citizen/entity only be allowed to own the land he/she/it is physically living and/or working on?² Or should the limit be somewhere between the two? If so, what should that limit be?

1. The Founders’ Constitution, Volume 1, edited by Philip B. Kurland and Ralph Lerner (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2001), Chapter 15, Document 32.
2. Robert Browne, Abraham Lincoln and the Men of His Time, Volume 2, (Cincinnati, Jennings & Pye, 1901), 89-90.

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