The Homesteading Principle is a Dead End
The homestead principle in law and in ethics is the principle by which one gains just ownership of an unowned resource by performing an act of original appropriation. Appropriation could be enacted by putting an unowned resource to active use (as with using it to produce a product), joining it with previously acquired property (as with placing it in a pocket) or by evidently marking it (as with livestock branding).
Proponents of intellectual property hold that ideas can also be homesteaded by originally creating a virtual or tangible representation of them. Others however argue that since tangible manifestations of a single idea will be present in many places, including within the minds of people, this precludes their being owned in most or all cases. Homesteading is one of the foundations of the capitalism and libertarianism ideologies.
Appropriation - Labor Mixing, First Use, Active Use
Many "right-" libertarians who support homesteading will claim that first use is what make a valid homestead. The problem comes when one demands a definition for use. Most first peoples were using land for foraging and walkabouts but tended to not stay in any one place too long. How are they not the first users? Perhaps the only uses which may be considered are ones which occur on a specific piece of land. How does one differentiate between passive and active uses? If I make something into a farm and clear hundreds of acres, at least I've busted my ass in converting nature and can make a case that I don't want my efforts to just go to someone else. If, on the other hand, I declare those hundreds of acres to be my personal forest or a nature preserve, my claim seems much more shaky - I'm creating property by decree. What if I clear a bunch of land and then later let the forest reclaim it? It would seem that nature has destroyed my improvements so no improvements would be lost in the contest with a newcomer.
This is the favorite of anarcho-socialists and also goes by the name occupancy and use. If someone is clearing and working a farm, then keep the hell off. If those people abandon it or try to turn it into a money-making venture by having people pay rent to them for the privilege of working it, then they consider that an injustice. This would ostensibly keep the amount of land any one person could own down to what they could use but, with technological improvements, it's hard to say that promise would hold.
An active use standard imposes value judgements about what constitutes use. The Sierra Club could not claim they were using land for wildlife habitats while others could turn that land into a farm or logging opportunity. There's also the issue of what constitutes abandonment. If the time frame is too broad then speculation and privilege can become problems, if it's too short, things become ridiculous - what, I can't go on vacation without squatters taking over my front lawn?
Some right libertarians support abandonment via adverse possession but, in today's world of satellite imagery, it's unlikely anyone could squat unnoticed for the time frame desired by those libertarians.
Mixing Labor / Improvements
The other bulk of right libertarian homestead proponents adhere to a labor mixing standard which states that mixing labor is what grants ownership. This is, in many ways, the most sane (but, I'd argue, not most just) of the three. If I take a stone and carve it into a statue then, yes, I've captured some natural resources, but I've formed them into something which embodies my efforts. If someone destroys or takes that item against my wishes it's as if they've retroactively stolen my time. For small items, that makes sense. For land and natural resources, I argue that it leads to privilege.
The more honest libertarians won't try to claim that labor mixing gives you rights to anything other than what you've actually mixed your labor with. Thus, if you were to walk a perimeter around some land you wouldn't own the land within those boundaries, nor any minerals underneath. There still remains a problem of how much labor one must mix or whether or not it degrades or is the only known thing immune to entropy. The classic extreme example is dumping a can of justly purchased soup into a lake. Presuming the soup disperses evenly among all the water molecules, does that grant the owner of the soup ownership of the lake? Since someone taking water from the lake will steal a few molecules of soup, is that an infringement?
Some labor mixers don't even stick to their initial claims and get all flipped out when you bring up examples like this...
The Sun Blocker and How to Get Libertarians to Move the Goalposts
On an episode of The Simpsons, Mr. Burns built a sunlight blocking machine which cast the town of Springfield into darkness. According to labor mixers, this should be perfectly legitimate since one did not mix labor with the sunlight or at least that sunlight (since sunlight is a continuous phenomenon). Many immediately jump to the claim that their use involved sunlight and is harmed by the blockage. Unfortunately, they cannot make that jump because, to do so, would mean that they abandon the mixing justification and switch to a use justification. If one's willing to jump to that standard then what does it mean that the indigenous people were using land? It's also an example of "Is that your true rejection?"
If one continues to firmly assert that sunlight blocking is wrong, change the topic to someone building an ugly house across the street which lowers the resale value of your property. Most libertarians will jump to that guy's defense saying that you don't have a right to a view. What the hell? I thought this was the party of logically-derived principles!
Exclusive Ownership Can Impose Ongoing Costs on Others
Of the three justifications listed above, only an active use standard recognizes ongoing exclusion as potential harm strongly enough to place an ongoing contingency on exclusion.
The other two standards look at the effects at the time of the appropriation or attempted appropriation. If there's no conflict at that time, then it's valid. If there is a conflict, then the winner is the first conflict-free appropriator.
Since almost all property in land was based in conflict or decree at some point, I like to call first use and first labor mixing the "no theft starting... NOW" standards. Advocates of those standards correctly recognize that going back hundreds if not thousands of years to find the heirs of the dispossessed is not practical (and I've yet to hear why one should get something if one of your ancestors happened to be one of the dispossessed). Still, it's a little convenient that the people advocating it are the ones who would tend to gain in a world of decent written and electronic records of ownership. I'm sure each generation had their justifications.
Homesteading Denies Equal Self-Ownership
Self-ownership has descriptive and normative components. I feel it fails to jump from is to ought, but "ought implies can" can allow it to jump from ought to is (possible).
Self-ownership in the descriptive sense is self-possession. The arrangement of dispositions and beliefs called "Justin" is the most proximate cause of certain actions and probably the most correctable if others deem those actions to be bad. While someone could invent a mind ray which allowed them to control others, the actions would them come from the desires of the controlling individual.
Lying tends to be ignored because it can pose problems for some aspects of libertarian theory. Injecting false beliefs into others to get them to act "of their own free will" but with influence from the liar. Slavery is also problematic because slaves still possess themselves. A slave-master can't *make* a slave build something, all he can do is threaten him with things the slave doesn't want to happen. The slave still makes his or her own choice. For these two reasons, I prefer goal actualization as a metric over self-ownership and property, but that's a topic for a different time.
One can't have a right to self-ownership unless one can actually possess themselves. If one rejects that, then one is probably rejecting "ought implies can" which leads to all sorts of anti-intuitionist standards such as punishing someone for not teleporting a child out of a burning building.
A right is something which others recognize as not being contingent on permission of any specific individual or group. Permissions are recognized as being contingent on such permission.
Good so far?
If something is a prerequisite of something else, then any contingency on that thing is necessarily a contingency on that something else. If entering your house is necessary to get a record you're lending me while you're on vacation then you need to grant me permission to enter the house (explicitly or implicitly to grant me permission to get the record while you're not home. Something is not a prerequisite if something else could be substituted in. For instance, if you shipped me the record or left it out before you went on vacation, then my entering the house would not be a prerequisite of obtaining the record.
Now, let's look at access to nature and how it relates to self-ownership. Self-ownership, self-possession, self-anything requires a self. No self, no verb attaching to that noun. A self requires access to nature. Not only in the very short term (for instance taking in breaths of oxygen and making them into yourself), but in each instant for a physical 3D location to occupy.
If being somewhere (capable of supporting life with labor) is contingent on permission from someone else, then self is contingent on permission from someone else and self-*verb* including self-ownership is also contingent.
There are pretty much two options at this point: either everyone in some group (e.g. humans) have a right (and thus non-interference in an ability) to self-possess or they don't. If they do then the right to exclude others from the prerequisites of doing so is bounded. So equal rights of self-ownership or unbounded property rights in prerequisites of self-ownership of others. That's pretty much it.
But what about food? People need food to live! Is food a right? Food is definitely a prerequisite, but getting it from others isn't. If people stay out of the way, others can succeed or fail with no one to blame but themselves or nature.
People can't make more land. Even seasteading or space exploration requires using materials from claimed land to make the boats or spaceships, so that's out. One can work for others to earn the money to buy land but they must be somewhere to work. So that brings things full circle unless one wants to say that someone has a right to a job.
Resource Rent Recoveries and Owning Your Values
All definitions of use and labor mixing are going to be subjective. That's fine, all evaluations are. But one standard doesn't necessarily give others a reason to respect it. For all the talk of eliminating the state, it's not going to happen if DROs and private defense agencies have to protect large resource-holders from others who think they can put those resources to better use. It just becomes a state with a different name.
So, how about people actually compete with one another for resources in a way which allows both sides to not have to fight but also not to impose costs on others which those others have no reason to regard as valid? I'm talking about bargaining for a right of exclusion on an ongoing basis.
The immediate and, in my opinion, most justified objection is "what about my improvements?" We're supposed to believe that anarchy is possible but the market can't provide solutions for this type of problem through insurance, movables such as vertical farming and pre-fabricated buildings, shunning people who are jerks, etc.? That is, perhaps, a roundabout way of saying I don't know what the answer is or if there is one "best" answer. I know that, through logic, equal self-ownership is not possible under the current system. That's enough for me.
A secondary concern is one of overpopulation. Population overshoot poses a problem in all normative systems I'm aware of. Homesteading simply scales less well with population growth than other property justifications.
Functional property rights have a component of expectation in them. I don't paint a mural on the side of buildings, even with the permission of the owner, because I might not get to keep my work. Similarly I wouldn't buy way more acreage than I could use or try to make a statue out of a large percentage of the world's rare earth metals because I might not get to keep it.
Something like periodic bidding is a more accurate expression of how much individuals value excluding others on an ongoing basis. If you value a view, or cell-phone reception, or minimal light pollution, you can price that in. If someone comes over and wants to use what resources you're claiming, you can tell them to piss off if they actually can and have it work out for them, or you can give them a fraction of a cent to go bother your neighbor instead and he'll do the same, repeat until the individual has enough accumulated fractions of a cent to buy his own part of nature to exclude others from.
So long as the cost of fighting is more than the cost of bargaining, no big state will be necessary (possibly no state at all) and more people will be expressing fuller self-ownership / self-actualization.
Addendum: The Kindergarten Example and the Territorial Animal Example
Children in kindergarten who are playing with toys know that they have a right to use it against the claims of other children because they were using it first.
This neglects the distinction between toys the child made versus toys which were there already (which from their point of view are "free gifts of nature."). It most importantly ignores the view that even the adults wouldn't consider it valid for a child to gather up a bunch of toys and not play with them but not let other children play with them either or charge them for playing with them. At best this shows a predisposition toward an active use standard of property.
The second example points out that bears and wolves and other animals are territorial and will make property claims, usually by scent-marking trees. They neglect to mention that the scent fades over time so continual labor is needed to maintain the property claim. They also neglect to point out that the animals don't charge other animals to live there.
Most importantly they fail to mention that the animals are willing to fight to back up the scent markings. Humans pussy out and hire others to do the fighting for them. If we're going to appeal to the law of the jungle, then why not go all the way? Might makes right in the animal world. If I kill you and take away what you were claiming as yours I'm just "marking my territory."