That was then, this is now: a continuing series, Coasean George Washington edition

Land speculation was a natural and common preoccupation among the Founders. For some it became an economic affliction. “Hardly a prominent man of the period failed to secure large tracts of real estate, which could be had at absurdly low prices, and to hold the lands for the natural advance which increased population would bring,” wrote Albert J. Beveridge.27 For many, such speculation would prove a hazardous preoccupation. Virginia’s Henry Lee and Pennsylvania’s Robert Morris and James Wilson ended up in jail because of their debts from speculation. Washington biographer James Thomas Flexner noted that land speculation was “a fundamental aspect of American economic life, but it had become in the last few years an extremely tricky one. General [Henry] Knox was above the knees in financial trouble because of the new settlements he had started in Maine.”28 Speculation in land became particularly rampant in the early 1790s when the stability of the new republic seemed assured. Describing the process of speculation, historian Forrest McDonald wrote: “One worked or connived to obtain a stake, then worked or connived to obtain legal title to a tract of wilderness, then sold the wilderness by the acre to the hordes of immigrants, and thereby lived and died a wealthy man. Appropriately, the most successful practitioner of this craft was George Washington, who had acquired several hundred thousand acres and was reckoned by many as the wealthiest man in America.”


Washington’s land holdings clearly affected his political outlook – first regarding England, and later regarding the United States. Washington thought big and thought about the implications of thinking big. Glenn A. Phelps wrote that Washington’s “extensive land-holdings in the West, as well as his frequent surveying expeditions to the frontier, had placed him within a circle of Virginia politicians with somewhat more enterprising, expansionist, westward-looking interests than their tidewater brethren.”59 Increasingly after the Revolutionary War, Washington’s land-holdings affected his preoccupation with the development of the Potomac River and a canal through the area where it was not navigable. Washington wrote a friend in 1785 that “unless we can connect the new States which are rising to our view in those regions, with those on the Atlantic by interest (the only binding cement, and not otherwise to be effected by opening such communications as will make it easier and cheaper for them to bring the product of their labour our markets, instead of going to the Spaniards southerly, or the British northerly), they will be quite a distinct people; and ultimately may be very troublesome neighbors to us.”


Washington foresaw America’s great westward migration and he foresaw potential wealth for himself. Historian Edmund S. Morgan wrote: “Washington believed that as a private citizen pursuing his own interests he could still be working for the good of the nation. He engaged without a qualm in a scheme that would benefit him financially, while it bolstered American independence in a way that he thought was crucial…

Washington also supported infrastructure projects that would increase the value of his landholdings.  Here is the source, with the tip via MR commentator g. ruqt.

Here is my earlier post on Inconvenient Questions.


But to quote Thomas Paine:

"Men did not make the earth. It is the value of the improvements only, and not the earth itself, that is individual property. Every proprietor owes to the community a ground rent for the land which he holds."

The vast bulk of the founders obviously (and correctly) preferred Locke. Land left in the commons is worthless, so the ground rent for land that is appropriated is a zero.

Well, anyways, land shared by Indians isn't worth anything to colonists, that much is clear.

The logic is as though I were to determine that you were making suboptimal use of your house, kicked you out, and then defended it as morally correct on the basis of your not making sufficiently productive use of it.

That logic, extended to the land of entire peoples ...

So anyways, I guess there would have been a second best justification if Locke hadn't said it quite that way ...

It is called Eminent Domain.

You seriously ruin comment threads that are intelligent and interesting to read it with your just ridiculously poorly thought-out ideas. Have you ever considered that the reason that you're not pursuing a PhD is because you're not smart enough and that maybe you should just resign to posting poloticsl quips like I do?

If you want to live as Rousseau's (not-so) noble savage, then please go off to some undeveloped land in the middle of nowhere where we will be spared your insufferable volubility.

There's a middle ground between supporting the theft of land of foreign nations for their suboptimally productive land usage and, if in failing to do express such support, therefore being such a backwards person that I tacitly want to consign humanity to forever be a backwater in all places or some such thing.

You know, they could have just say "there were more of us, we had guns, we won, that's history , let's get along now". But no, it had to be some philosophical explanation of a moral right to have done so.

It happened. It was not right. Things might even work out better as a result of it. That does not make it's having been done an OK thing.

Grabbing the first result quoting a key part of locke:

' ' according to which the private appropriation of land is justifiable only when “there is enough, and as good left in common with others,” ' '

Locke never considered common land to be worthless. In fact he understood it was not only valuable, but necessary for the masses to live on.

He placed the value of common land as equal to land claimed by a person working the land. Private land had no intrinsic value. ALL the value came from the labor improving the land.

Locke saw the New World as offering what seemed like infinite land such that the British people without land could go to there and work and then claim land with only the lack of effort improving the land limiting "happiness".

Yet he stated that land was not infinite and that at some point, taking from the common must end because he saw that many things require unimproved land, thus common land. Locke would never have argued hunting must cease because hunting is incompatible with land improved by labor.

Locke would have objected to wilderness being claimed as private land from the common. By definition, it is unimproved and thus can not be claimed.

"and the ground which produces the materials, is scarce to be reckoned in, as any, or at most, but a very small part of it; so little, that even amongst us, land that is left wholly to nature, that hath no improvement of pasturage, tillage, or planting, is called, as indeed it is, waste; and we shall find the benefit of it amount to little more than nothing."--Locke (2nd Treatise, Chap. 5, Par. 42).

Enclosing land is usually the prelude to improving it. Washington (who worked for a while as a county surveyor) surveyed the land he chose to acquire and the information was used to help sell the land. Locke's enough and as good limitation is rendered moot once all land in an area is enclosed and improved: " a king of a large and fruitful territory there [America], feeds, lodges, and is clad worse than a day-labourer in England."

Funny how the tides change from Trump = Hitler to Trump = Washington

Someone with more time on their hands than I have might like to pin-point when the tenor of Tyler's comments changed from Drumpf to Trump = Washington. It's only idle curiosity but, if we knew, we might be able to determine when and why the Koch brothers became sufficiently annoyed to pull him into line.

The Kochs don't like Trump, or has that changed?

They'll learn how to deal with a flash in the pan like Trump, who only inheritd a few paltry millions, without that fatherly connection to a political movement dedicated to making even America greater again, founded back when Trump was still sitting at his immigrant mother's dinner table, though attending a fine private school.

It hasn't changed, but uniformed leftists remain uninformed leftists.

Although I am an uninformed liberal, I, too, thought the Koch brothers were opposed to Trump. However, I can seen reasons why they may love as well as fear him On the plus side (from their perspective), Trump may be able to accomplish his agenda of cutting taxes on the rich, gutting regulation, and destroying the environment. On the negative side, in a fit of pique Trump may blow up the world. It would be interesting to know how the Koch brothers rate the likelihood of those possible scenarios.

"Funny how the tides change from Trump = Hitler to Trump = Washington"

Rationality prevails. I don't necessarily believe that Trump is equal Washington, but he's far closer ideologically to Washington than he is to Hitler.

But I expect the Trump is a Nazi/Fascist comments to be at least as common as the Obama is a Muslim/Socialist comments were 8 years ago. And to be just as close to the truth.

Obama was raised Muslim and is a socialist. Trump has nothing to do with Nazism. Yep, Trump being a Nazi will be far more prevalent than Obama being a Muslim , although perhaps not Obama being a socialist.


Yawn. What is so controversial about this piece? Or is TC simply lerning stuff about earlier times and sharing his thoughts? Kudos.

I recall the DC "C&O canal" was a Washington-Jefferson scheme to promote some lands they bought in MD, but I could be mistaken.

Bonus trivia: "Lee Highway" is named after the Confederate slaver General Lee, some of who's acreage my family now owns. As does the (in?)famous black comedian B. Cosby, not to be confused with the famous white crooner B. Crosby, not to be confused with Booker T. Washington, not to be confused with Aron Nimzovitch.

"As does the (in?)famous black comedian B. Cosby, not to be confused with the famous white crooner B. Crosby,"
I used to confuse both, my tip to avoid it is just remembering that Denise Crosby, who acted in Star Trek: The New Generation was Crosby's granddaughter, not Cosby's, the rest follows.

Pretty sure everybody knows who lee highway is named after, ray.

Bruce Lee?

Did you know that booths are actually named after John Wilkes Booth, because Lincoln was sitting in a chair and the high back of a booth would have saved his life?

Yeah me neither

I thought they were called booths because, if there were one nearby, Clarck Kent would have been able to change into Superman and save Lincoln's life.

* Clark

Ray, Good reference to a humble master.

I'm not a chess person, the universe is too vast to correlate with stupid horse moves that look like an ell, or a sideways bishop, but i appreciate those who focus

mental exercise that keep synapses perky

I recall the DC “C&O canal” was a Washington-Jefferson scheme to promote some lands they bought in MD, but I could be mistaken.

I have read that the site for D.C. Was chosen because it was just down river from gw's house.

The descendants of immigrants, Washington, Jefferson, et al., have a different view than their ancestors. The immigrants themselves knew they were interlopers and operated with that in mind. The sons of the British colonists considered themselves Americans. This thought process has continued ever since with second generation immigrants from other parts of the world.

Land was equated with wealth at the time; indeed, besides slaves, land was the only practical investment available. What was the alternative, stocks and bonds? Of course, land is also a burden, as are slaves, both of which require capital to maintain. As for George Washington, he resented the British for (at least) two reasons: one, the British refused to give him an officer's commission after leading troops against the French and Indians, and, two, the British refused to give him what he thought was rightfully his, the enormous Ohio Territory, after he had surveyed it. If the British had appeased Washington, maybe we would still be a colony and have avoided the nightmare to come.

"the British refused to give him what he thought was rightfully his, the enormous Ohio Territory, after he had surveyed it." Not just him; Parliament wanted to honour its treaties with the Indians - no white settlement beyond the Appalachian watershed. No doubt such treaties would eventually have failed under pressure from the colonists, but waiting for ordinary politics to work would have taken too long for Washington. War was quicker.

Making him the greatest foe the British Empire ever faced - 'The American was voted the winner in a contest run by the National Army Museum to identify the country's most outstanding military opponent.

He was one of a shortlist of five leaders who topped a public poll and on Saturday was selected as the ultimate winner by an audience of around 70 guests at a special event at the museum, in Chelsea, west London.

In second place was Michael Collins, the Irish leader, ahead of Napoleon Bonaparte, Erwin Rommel and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

At the event, each contender had their case made by a historian giving a 40 minute presentation. The audience, who had paid to attend the day, then voted in a secret ballot after all five presentations had been made.

The shortlist of five were selected from an initial list of 20 candidates, drawn up by the museum's curators.

To qualify, each commander had to come from the 17th century onwards – the period covered by the museum's collection – and had to have led an army in the field against the British, thus excluding political enemies, like Adolf Hitler.'

Michael Collins as second? That's merely the cult of the new. I doubt historians in the future will rate him highly as a battlefield commander.

Both Bonaparte and Rommel should rank highly on the list of course.

I would think that Bonaparte and Rommel (or maybe Guderian) should rank higher than Washingon or Ataturk. The first two represented existential threats to Britain, the latter two were just revolutionaries in distant provinces.

Question: If we had been colonized until 1950 would the ills of the world still be our fault? Answer: Did Democrat leader Larry Ellison align with movements that advocated Jewish genocide?

"land is also a burden, as are slaves, both of which require capital to maintain. "

Labor is required to maintain capital. Capital is only created by past labor, but capital always decays, thus constantly requires input of labor to fight entropy.

Labor is the source of value.

If labor has no value, then capital has no value. Much to the frustration of contemporary conservatives ...

... who keep promising higher gdp growth and greater wealth for everyone by paying labor less and less to earn higher and higher profits which then inflate the price, but not value, of capital assets, "creating wealth" from nothing.

If the conservative ideal came to exist with zero labor costs and 100% profits, who will have money to buy what is produced by the robots who replace all the workers? What will the robots buy from the robots producing everything, and how high would they go on the prices they pay to make gdp grow rapidly?

Will the robots replacing all workers buy anything from human workers so workers have money to buy from the robots?

By the way, algorithms outperform humans on Wall Street so Wall Street and capitalists should be the first replaced by robots, then CEOs who are grossly overpaid and thus readily replaced by a much cheaper ten million dollar robot that costs ten million once, not ten to hundreds of millions every year. Logically the AIs and robots should take over the entire FIRE sector first and eliminate all capitalists, other than the hardest laboring capitalist who creates the best fastest learning AI that becomes the sole winner.

You might want to read all the 60s sci-fi with these very premises.

"General [Henry] Knox was above the knees in financial trouble

". . . above the knees . . ."

What an elegant way of saying ". . . up to his ass . . ."!

As for Trump, he doesn't own most of the real estate projects that bear his name; instead, he licenses his name to the developers/owners. Nevertheless, he prospers if the projects prosper, since his licensing fees are in many cases a function of the income generated by the projects. On the other hand, in many cases Trump has prospered even though the developers and investors suffered losses. In my sunbelt city, Trump met with prospective buyers of a Trump Tower, the prospects making millions in deposits to secure a place in the condominium that would bear his name. When the project collapsed without dirt ever being moved, the prospects looked to Trump for a refund of their deposits, only to be told by Trump that it wasn't his responsibility, since his only connection to the project was the millions he had already been paid for the use of his name and for the meet and greet where the suckers, I mean prospects, would make their deposits. Asked why they would give millions for a project that was only an idea, the suckers, I mean prospects, said they relied on the good name of Donald Trump.

A much a I despise Mr. Trump's political performance, I must admit I have some admiration for someone who, like a cat, always lands on his feet and clearly despises the people feeding him. In the 90's, I thought he was done, now he is richer beyoned my dreams of avarice (but not his, I fear). In the 2000's, I thought he was a somewhat ridiculous figure, now he is the leader-elect of the Free Word.

Does anybody nowadays use the expression 'Leader of the Free World' without finger-waggling air quotation marks, or deploying a sarcastic tone of voice?

Most Americans - who like to consider themselves the only thing keeping the free world free.

(And you thought Hellary was awful - Trump's bombast will likely be insufferable.)

To be fair, the freedom to wear a burqa is still protected in America, while the land of the ovens, the grandchildren of Nazi culture, bans it.

Well, Poland is Catholic.

I do. Brazil has been for years one of the cornerstones of the Free Word and has been a vital, even if unjustifiedly neglected, ally of the USA since the early 1940s when Brazil pretend to be allied with the Nazis to extract economic concessions from them before defecting and allying itelf with the Western Allies.

We've all been enrolled into Trump University and though classses haven't even started, Stockholm syndrome is already rampant.

No, I got my PhD from Laureate University for a small donation of 19 million dollars to Hillary and Bill Clinton's non-profit estate planning organization.

...see also Disraeli/stock exchange/Trafalgar for another story of intertemporal moral inconsistency.

What would be more interesting would be discussing how the change in corruption norms relates to the perceived increase in infrastructure costs.

Disraeli, the future PM, was born on 21 December 1804. If he made money out of the Battle of Trafalgar (21 October 1805) he was remarkably precocious.

Or did you mean something else?

George Washington's techniques of land acquisition probably would be frowned on today:

You conveniently forget that many Indians in the Old Northwest allied with the Brits (a reasonable decision ex ante). In 1778, there were massacres of colonials in the Wyoming Valley PA, Cherry Valley NY and elsewhere. (google massacre 1778 and see what pops up). Washington responding by ordering troops in 1779 to fight the Iroquois gratuitous land grabbing.

last sentence should read

Washington responding by ordering troops in 1779 to fight the Iroquois was not gratuitous land grabbing.

"You conveniently forget that many Indians in the Old Northwest allied with the Brits"

The Brits were the established government. The Iroquois were acting as patriotic subjects if not citizens, a status not awarded to them by the US until 150 years later. The massacred colonials were traitors to the crown, the enemy. As far as gratuitous land grabbing is concerned, the Iroquois haven't been able to live there since.

You ended your quote too early. You conveniently left off "(a reasonable decision ex ante)."
"Loyal British subjects" have no standing to complain about abusive methods of land grabbing by others.
See India, Ireland, the Cape to Cairo, etc., etc., etc.

"Here is my earlier post on Inconvenient Questions."

Tyler, that earlier post was excellent by the way. I do try and ask myself, when I feel outraged, would I be outraged if "my guy" did it. And if the other side is outraged, would I be outraged if "their guy" did it.

Usually, if I can't answer the questions consistently, I know I'm being biased.

I always get a snicker whenever someone brings up this conspiracy theory.

"So, you're saying you want want to risk your entire fortune and your entire family being hanged as traitors, and go to war against the world's largest military several times over, when you're already fantastically wealthy, and literally own hundreds of other human beings who work your palatial estate, just so that your land speculation enterprise can get better returns."

'Yeah -- why? Can you think of anything wrong with the plan?'

You mean, they had..."huge tracts of land!"

Rationality prevails. I don’t necessarily believe that Trump is equal Washington, but he’s far closer ideologically to Washington than he is to Hitler.

On the other hand, in many cases Trump has prospered even though the developers and investors suffered losses.

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