Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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First Pub. Date
New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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APPROPRIATION. Appropriation is the reduction to private property of an object which belonged or might belong to all. Thus, arable land which, as we may suppose, was primarily the property of the whole human race, was appropriated when it was first divided into parts, each one of which had its distinct owner.—the word appropriation can hardly be applied to things other than those given by nature; for, as to those which are the fruit of the labor of man, they so naturally and necessarily belong to him who has produced them that they are, so to speak, incorporated in him, until he disposes of them by exchange, or voluntarily destroys them. But the word appropriation does not apply equally to all natural objects. It can hardly be properly applied to the simple consumable products which the earth or the sea may furnish man with. It is rather applied to productive original stock, that is, to the natural instruments of production, such as arable land, mines, water-courses, etc., in a word to all the natural elements which constantly assist us in our labors.


—Among the natural instruments of production, some are susceptible of appropriation, others are not. For instance, arable land and mines have been almost entirely converted into private property in all civilized countries; but the sea which, like the earth, is productive, since it produces fish, mollusks, coral, pearls, salt, etc., has not been appropriated and scarcely can be, except some very limited portion of it near the shore.


—All economists admit that the appropriation of arable land has singularly increased its fecundity, and made it truly a benefit not only to the actual possessors of the soil, but also to those who believe they have been unjustly deprived of it. "We have examples," says J. B. Say, "of what happens where there are no landed proprietors. Where there are no such proprietors, people are in the condition of the Hurons and Iroquois. Among them the soil belongs to nobody; and the only product that their agricultural industry, which is the chase, procures from this soil, consists of the furs which they sometimes secure at the cost of untold fatigue, though at times their labor goes unrewarded. The produce of the chase does not always crown their efforts, and they and their families are exposed to most frightful privations."


—In countries where the land does not belong to anybody, nobody cultivates it, and men obtain from it only the meagre fruits which it produces spontaneously.


—In all countries, even the most civilized, there still are lands which are not absolutely appropriated, in the sense that the state or communes have reserved their possession to themselves. This is always a beginning of appropriation, and it can not be said in this case that nobody is interested in improving the natural resources of such land; but as the proprietor is a collective person, his interest is not sufficiently direct and urgent to induce him to endeavor to draw from the land all that it can be made to yield. Hence it is that in all the countries of the world, the lands belonging to the state and municipalities are by far the worst managed and least productive.


—Mines and quarries may be appropriated just as arable land may be, and, it is evident, may gain fully as much by it. Their appropriation is, however, rarely as complete and absolute as that of land. In many countries, the state makes certain reservations in this respect. In some of them the government retains the mines in its own possession, and works them itself. This is the case in Germany for instance, with the iron and salt mines, and in some other parts of Europe and America, with gold and silver mines. In France, the government while granting to private individuals the right to work mines, reserves to itself the ownership of them in principle; so that, leaving out the consideration, the labor, the expenses, and the losses to which it subjects its grantees, it constantly holds over them the threat of a withdrawal of their grant. Theirs is a sort of conditional and precarious appropriation, which does not offer the advantages of an absolute and irrevocable appropriation. (See AGENTS, NATURAL; LAND, MINES, OCCUPATION, PROPERTY.)


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