Though the Earth, and all inferior Creatures be common to all Men, yet every Man has a Property in his own Person. This no Body has any Right to but himself. The Labour of his Body, and the Work of his Hands, we may say, are properly his. John Locke, Two Treatises o f Government (1698), Book 2, Chapter 5, § 27

The property which every man has in his own labour, as it is the original foundation of all other property, so it is the most sacred and inviolable. The patrimony of a poor man lies in the strength and dexterity of his hands; and to hinder him from employing this strength and dexterity in what manner he thinks proper without injury to his neighbour is a plain violation of this most sacred property. Adam Smith, The Wealth o f Nations (1776), Book 1, Chapter 10

The institution of property, when limited to its essential elements, consists in the recognition, in each person, of a right to the exclusive disposal of what he or she have produced by their own exertions, or received either by gift or by fair agreement, without force or fraud, from those who produced it. The found­ ation of the whole is the right of producers to what they themselves have produced. John Stuart Mill, Principles o f Political Economy (1848), Book 2, Chapter 2, §1

These three quotations, spanning a century and half, express a common idea: that each person has a right to the produce of his own labour. For Adam Smith this was a principle that opposed legis­ lative interference in the workings of the market. (The passage I have quoted forms part of an attack on ‘impertinent’ and ‘oppres­ sive’ laws regulating apprenticeships.) For John Locke, a man’s right to his own labour was more fundamental than any landowner’s

claim to a portion of the earth, since the earth was naturally common to all men; it was only by mixing his labour with a piece of land that a man could acquire rights over it. John Stuart Mill used a similar principle to distinguish between the claims of workers and landowners: the worker was entitled to the produce of his own labour in a way that the landowner was not entitled to the ‘raw material of the earth’.1 In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries this distinction was an important part of socialist and populist thinking; the idea that the expenses of government ought to be met from the proceeds of a land tax — a logical development of Mill’s own thinking — was widely held after it was popularised by Henry George in Progress and Poverty.2