A Modern Link to Locke
“Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property.”
In a world of complex real estate titles, extensive property laws and rules of estate, Locke’s views on property may often seem unrealistic and old-fashioned. That is to say, in today’s world, how is it acceptable in any way to assume that simply by you physically working for something, makes it yours? That, as long as there’s enough for everyone to share, you can take whatever you need?
Surprisingly, Locke maintains a firm grasp on a peculiar field of real estate law—a policy called adverse selection.
Findlaw.com describes adverse selection as follows:
“If a person moves into possession of property, improves it and possesses it in a public manner, then after a certain amount of time he will acquire title to the property even though it is actually owned by someone else.”
This law ties in with a fundamental concept of Locke’s—that property (and land specifically) should be given, or appropriated, to the “industrious and rational”, and that there are few things worse than squandered productivity—waste (295). So, if someone moves onto a plot of land that was of no benefit to the community at large, and makes it productive (i.e., improves the value or appeal of the neighborhood), that person has a right to claim it as his or her own.
In Michigan, in order to obtain any amount of property under adverse possession, you would have to maintain it for a statutory period of 15 years. But after that time, as long as you partook in no “secretive possession”, that land would legally be yours. As a direct result of your labor, and your labor having maintained—and even increased—the value of the acreage, it is yours to appropriate. In other words, Locke’s theories of property are, to some extent, still relevant today in a very real sense!