One of the major problems with discussions of an (alleged) natural right to the earth is the implicit background presumption that initial possession of raw material is an important determinant of wealth or welfare. Since the total supply of raw material cannot be increased, once there are lots of people around, any one person’s possession of raw material will diminish the amount of raw material available (without permission) to others. If the initial possession of raw material is a key determinant of wealth or welfare, it follows that once there are lots of people around, any one person’s possession of raw material will tend to diminish others’ prospects for wealth or welfare. Hence, the demand for some sort of initial equal distribution of raw material.
However, this background assumption is massively off-base. We all gain from others getting hold of raw materials and transforming them into resources. We (almost always) gain much more from this than we would by merely getting a first grip on raw stuff. As Locke points out, the reason that we can all end up as winners even if no raw stuff remains available for initial acquisition is that human beings are creatively productive. “This shews how much numbers of men are to be preferred to largeness of dominions… [at least when there are] … established laws of liberty to secure protection and encouragement to the honest industry of mankind.”14