Friday, August 19, 2011

Thomas Jefferson: The Earth belongs in usufruct to the living

As the USA and the rest of the world ponders what the hell to do with the all the debt we have all accumulated over the past decades, this letter from Thomas Jefferson to James Madison in 1789 offers some good perspective on the subject. Sometimes when you can't figure out how to make something work its a good idea to go back and read the owner's manual.  And in case you didn't know, the term usufruct is the legal right to use and derive profit or benefit from property that belongs to another person, as long as the property is not damaged. 

Letter from Thomas Jefferson - to James Madison - Paris, September 6, 1789

I set out on this ground which I suppose to be self evident, "that the earth belongs in usufruct to the living;" that the dead have neither powers nor rights over it.
The portion occupied by an individual ceases to be his when himself ceases to be, and reverts to the society.. the child, the legatee or creditor takes it, not by any natural right, but by a law of the society of which they are members, and to which they are subject.
Then no man can by natural right oblige the lands he occupied, or the persons who succeed him in that occupation, to the paiment of debts contracted by him.  For if he could, he might during his own life, eat up the usufruct of the lands for several generations to come, and then the lands would belong to the dead, and not to the living, which would be reverse of our principle. 

Interesting concept this Usufruct thing. You can use your little chunk of the Earth while you are alive but it's not going to be your's anymore after you die because the Earth belongs to the living not the dead.  So no one should plunder the land and steal its value from future generations.  This is a very green concept I might add.  Oil must be the ultimate anti-usufruct seeing as it took millions of years to form and we're going to use it in a century or two.  Jefferson ties this usufruct theme into his opinion about National debt.  TJ3 said that no generation should bind future generations to debt.

The earth belongs to the living. 

Which is not to say you can inject his wisdom in the here and now in the current debt crisis.  It might have been helpful about 100 years ago, but its too late now for usufruct to kick in on this greatest (debt accumulating) generation ever and unbind the future from trillions of usufruction.


  1. The plain and simple jist of it is man would not be here if "god" did not "surrender" the usufruct.

    God surrendered the usufruct to universe;
    Universe surrenders the usufruct to nature;
    Nature surrenders the usufruct to man;
    Man surrenders the usufruct to "his creation" as man is made in the "image of god".

    If one does not, then how does one's "creation" "be live" if it does not have use of "one's fruit"?

  2. Hello Anonymous, here is what Isaiah said back before there were blogs..

    24:4-6 - The earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers, the exalted of the earth languish. The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt. Therefore earth's inhabitants are burned up, and very few are left. (NIV)