Property

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Property, like all rights, is a coercive social institution, not a mystical relationship of individuals with objects. Property redistributes liberty: it protects some specific liberty for owners, and coercively denies that liberty to all others. The pretense that property is not coercive is one of the great libertarian lies.

Links

What Is Property?
Property is a complex set of coercive rights. Most people rely on simple folk models, but at least four fields are important for understanding property: philosophy, law, economics, and anthropology. Libertarians want an absolute, full liberal property over everything, that has never existed and that most people would not want.
Libertarians Misunderstand Property
Libertarians routinely assume modern property is natural, is absolute, is costless, should extend over all, and solves all problems. None of that is true.
Property Is Coercive (17 links)
Claims that government is coercive but capitalism and markets are not overlook the coercion involved in property.
Expropriation (6 links)
Libertarians generally ignore or make excuses for the fact that essentially all property in land has been coercively expropriated (often repeatedly) from preceding peoples. Including acquisition from the commons. Any philosophy of just property in land must deal with this historical fact.
Private Property (2 links)
Libertarians use this term to emphasize their beliefs that government should not or can not own property, nor interfere with use of property nor tax property. It serves as a shibboleth (dog-whistle) for libertarians and other right-wingers.
Bundle of Rights (3 links)
Since Hohfeld and Honore's seminal works, property has been generally considered a variable bundle of roughly a dozen rights, duties, liabilities, etc. spelling out relationships between an owner and other people about a thing.
Limited Property (2 links)
Libertarians want absolute property rights, but the real world limits property rights for practical reasons. Zoning, property taxes, easements, access, adverse possession, environmental regulation, etc.
Self-Ownership (11 links)
Self-ownership is another imaginary right. No human society has ever treated people as their own inviolate property. Even if self-ownership was only an aspirational goal, it could not be implemented for children or incompetents. Libertarians frequently base their philosophy on this imagined right. In modern society, persons have "body rights": they do not own their bodies, but do have limited property rights in them. Libertarians also confuse possession with ownership.
Private Property Is Not The Only Liberty (3 links)
Many libertarians root all rights and freedoms in self-ownership and other property rights. The few who recognize other rights consider them trumped by even the slightest association with property. Property uber alles!
The Lockean Fable of Initial Acquisition (12 links)
Also known as the labor theory of property. John Locke tells a story (nothing more) that ignores the fact that current real-world ownership is based on past theft and conquest (expropriation) not initial acquisition (appropriation.) Initial acquisition without government is a myth. "Mixing of labor" is merely expenditure of effort: it does nothing to create property because property is a socially constructed institution.
It's my money! (10 links)
Short for "I earned it, so it is entirely my property." The most common libertarian complaint against taxation of income. Completely mistaken because (a) your income is not solely your product and (b) there might be many pre-existing claims against your income, including rents, alimony, tithes, debts, taxes, etc. Fallaciously used to claim "taxation is theft" and "taxation is slavery".
Property Taxes (3 links)
Most libertarians are opposed to property taxes. The Georgists and others have answers that libertarians are unable to rebut.
A Dilemma for Libertarianism [More...]
Anarcho-capitalism exists; property ownership just happens to be dominated by about 200 firms called “governments.” Libertarians have erred in calculating who owns property.
A Theory of Property (book) (1 link)
An intuitionist theory based on principles of utility, efficiency, justice, equality and labor-based desert.
A Thought About Property Without The State [More...]
"I’d like to use a thought experiment to show how a world of solely private property is little different from our current world and how private property contains many of the arbitrary coercion that libertarians so passionately denounce in states."
Come See the Violence Inherent in the System [More...]
"The video is violent and repulsive, but only insofar as all property and contract enforcement is. The forceful removal of the passenger is not an extraordinary aberration from our civilized capitalist order. Rather, it is an example of the everyday violence (and threatened violence) that keeps that capitalist order running."
Efficiency, Sustainability, and Access Under Alternative Property-Rights Regimes [More...]
"This paper will focus primarily on an analysis of common property since so many serious confusions exist in regard to this form of property and its effects on efficiency, sustainability and access."
Eminent Domain (4 links)
Libertarians hate this limitation on property rights, ranting incessantly. And when used corruptly, it is detestable to all. But it does have an important role to play in overcoming a common market failure called the Tragedy Of The Anticommons. The key concept is that property ownership is not an unmitigated good, and, worse yet, it can lead to economic gridlock and underutilization of resources.
Existential Comics 259: A Dialogue on Freedom [More...]
An Existential Comics explanation of how Robert Nozick's criticism of Utilitarianism hoists him by his own petard. A good criticism of oppression of non-owners, but misses the fact that corporations are real-world immortal "freedom monsters". Both monsters are unrealistic in that they differ strongly from (are unequal to) rather equal humans. "Realistic" philosophy would concern itself with the rather equal humans.
Foucault in cyberspace -- Chapter 2: Libertarianism, Property and Harm [More...]
(Starts on page 11.) Law Professor James Boyle points out that libertarianism fails to justify which rights we should have in three ways: common law, natural rights and Property. "When the vague first principles turn more specific, then the fun really begins."
Freedom and Money [More...]
G. A. Cohen points out the elephant in the room: property restricts freedoms of others, and money is the bribe needed to enjoy those freedoms. In this respect, the poor have much less freedom than others.
Government Creates Rights (2 links)
All rights are created by violent enforcement, and modern government is where we choose to sequester legitimate force. Government creates property: without government, there are temporary holdings, but not property in the modern sense.
Homesteading (4 links)
Libertarians frequently claim homesteading as a peaceful origin of property, but that is ignorant historical revisionism. There is no land in the world that can show a convincing chain of ownership through original homesteading (before other owners.) Existing claims of homesteading generally ignore pre-existing peoples who were swept aside. Homesteading for spontaneous establishment of ownership is ahistorical.
Intellectual Property Reform (11 links)
Many others besides libertarians propose reform or abolition of intellectual property, in part because there has been substantial regulatory capture. Some libertarians oppose it ideologically because it is obviously a government creation, others scream "my property!" Many non-libertarians pragmatically question whether it actually advances the useful arts. When intellectual property expires, it is returned to the commons; thus shortening of terms is often desired. The US Constitution does not mandate intellectual property because even then it was controversial whether it was a net benefit. A good alternative has been public subsidy of research.
John Locke Says Everything Belongs to Everyone [More...]
Locke straightforwardly claims that the poor have a right to the surplus property of the rich when they are in need.
Little Nemo in Slumberland: The Voyage to Mars [More...]
Mars is entirely the property of plutocrat B. Gosh, including the air, sunlight and even words. Widely considered to most amazing artistry ever in comics. The Mars visit extends from 4/24/1910 to 8/14/1910.
Look at the Violence Inherent in the System! [More...]
Libertarian Gene Callahan points out that private property is a social invention, which explains why some nations have "trespass" where others have "right to wander".
No violence but personal violence [More...]
"When I use the word violence in the context of discussing theories of property, I mean a specific thing by it: acting upon the bodies of others without their consent. This is as neutral a definition of “violence” as you will find. It is the definition of violence implied by the concept of self-ownership. It is the definition of violence implied by the concept of negative liberty, which is defined as freedom from external restraint."
Property And "No Property" [More...]
"But with respect to many aspects of life, those with little property tend to experience, not their own exercise of their own rights, but others’ exercise of rights that affect them[...] [The homeless] experience of property is thus likely to be not the rights-asserting, power-enforcing side, but the side that imposes duties (for example, to stay out of private spaces into which she is not invited) and liabilities (for example, to civil or criminal penalties for trespass)."
Property and Conflict [More...]
"That private property is extremely anti-libertarian poses a problem for libertarians, who are notable for their near worship of private property institutions. One of the ways they have taken to getting around this is to talk about the necessity of private property institutions for the avoidance of conflict [...] libertarian institutions are neither necessary nor sufficient for conflict avoidance."
Property Is Theft (3 links)
All property reduces the liberty of all other people by threatening violence for use of the property. Violent confiscation of liberty is a theft of liberty. This is true of other types of rights as well.
Slavery (24 links)
Slavery is a free-market, capitalist phenomenon. Slavery has almost always been abolished by acts of government that regulate the market, making it illegal. 19th century slaveowners defended their property rights in slaves in "economic freedom"-like terms that are unmistakably libertarian, differing only slightly in terms of who had natural rights. Some modern libertarians continue to make cases for slavery, such as Robert Nozick, Walter Block, Murray Rothbard and David Friedman. The private prisons that libertarians endorse (and traditional "hard labor") are really an opportunity to revive slavery. The only way to eliminate prison slavery is for government to regulate against it.
The Commons (6 links)
With private property ascendant, the fact that we have and need a huge amount of commons is often overlooked. Ecological services, the genetic commons, commons of language, government, infrastructure, society and many other things are very important to our daily lives. Regulated commons can also be a good substitute for private property where there are problems, for example airspace over property (which used to belong to the landowners.)
The Gridlock Economy: How Too Much Ownership Wrecks Markets, Stops Innovation, and Costs Lives (book) (1 link)
"Usually, private ownership creates wealth, but too much ownership has the opposite effect -- it creates gridlock. When too many people own pieces of one thing, whether a physical or intellectual resource, cooperation breaks down, wealth disappears, and everybody loses."
The Lesson of Grab What You Can [More...]
"But the Grab World baseline allows us to see that all economic institutions are restrictions and infringements on liberty. Property is the most liberty-destroying and all-encompassing of the restrictive economic institutions, but contracts, patents, copyrights, securities, corporations, and so on do the same thing."
The libertarian and the genie.
A libertarian finds a magic lamp, and when he mixes his labor with it a genie appears. The genie tells him he can have three wishes...
The Myth of Ownership: Taxes and Justice (book, online) (5 links)
Explains property rights as government creations, and taxes as part of property.
The Myth of Property: Toward an Egalitarian Theory of Ownership (book)
"One of the chief goals of this book is to deny the claim that either historically, conceptually, or (most important) normatively, the paradigm of ownership is the full ownership of goods without restriction or regulation."
The Purpose of Property Rights [More...]
"It turns out that any property scheme will prevent conflicts over the use of scarce resources, just so long as everyone agrees to it."
Two Notions of Liberty [More...]
"... liberty is a sliding scale concept that, crucially, is related directly to how much money (or whatever you want to use as the stand in for resources/stuff) you have. This means poor people have the least liberty and rich people have the most liberty."
Violence, Property, Theft, and Entitlement [More...]
Libertarians do not actually care about force or coercion, but instead have strange ideas about entitlement (and then are happy to use force or coercion to protect their entitlement.)

Quotations

Far from denouncing coercion, libertarians celebrate it -- provided that it is deployed for the benefit of the possessors of property.
Rob Hunter, "A Philosophy for the Propertied"
Our property is nothing but those goods, whose constant possession is established by the laws of society; that is, by the laws of justice.
David Hume, "A Treatise of Human Nature". (T III.2.2)
Security of property! Behold, in a few words, the definition of English liberty. And to this selfish principle every nobler one is sacrificed... But softly -- it is only the property of the rich that is secure; the man who lives by the sweat of his brow has no asylum from oppression...
Mary Wollstonecraft, "A Vindication of the Rights of Men", 1790.
There could be no such thing as landed property originally. Man did not make the earth, and, though he had a natural right to occupy it, he had no right to locate as his property in perpetuity any part of it; neither did the Creator of the earth open a land-office, from whence the first title-deeds should issue.
Thomas Paine, "Agrarian Justice"
Land, as before said, is the free gift of the Creator in common to the human race. Personal property is the effect of society; and it is as impossible for an individual to acquire personal property without the aid of society, as it is for him to make land originally.
Thomas Paine, "Agrarian Justice"
Separate an individual from society, and give him an island or a continent to possess, and he cannot acquire personal property. He cannot be rich. So inseparably are the means connected with the end, in all cases, that where the former do not exist the latter cannot be obtained. All accumulation, therefore, of personal property, beyond what a man’s own hands produce, is derived to him by living in society; and he owes on every principle of justice, of gratitude, and of civilization, a part of that accumulation back again to society from whence the whole came.
Thomas Paine, "Agrarian Justice"
Anarcho-capitalist, as far as I’m aware, have yet to answer exactly what a landowner is if not a de facto state. A state is defined over a particular territory, and (theoretically) has control over what happens in that territory. Ownership is also defined as having control over an object; in the case of land, this quite clearly leads to each land owner effectively being a sovereign state, however small. [...] any response that centered on how landowners would be competitively inclined to do Good Things could equally be applied to states, so would be an exercise in special pleading.
UnlearningEcon, "An FAQ for Libertarians"
How is property given? By restraining liberty; that is, by taking it away so far as is necessary for the purpose. How is your house made yours? By debarring every one else from the liberty of entering it without your leave.
Jeremy Bentham, "Anarchical Fallacies"
It will be implausible to view improving an object as giving full ownership to it, if the stock of unowned objects that might be improved is limited. For an object’s coming under one person's ownership changes the situation of all others. Whereas previous they were at liberty (in Hohfeld’s sense) to use the object, they now no longer are.
Robert Nozick, "Anarchy, State, and Utopia"
All Property, indeed, except the Savage's temporary Cabin, his Bow, his Matchcoat, and other little Acquisitions, absolutely necessary for his Subsistence, seems to me to be the Creature of public Convention. Hence the Public has the Right of Regulating Descents, and all other Conveyances of Property, and even of limiting the Quantity and the Uses of it. All the Property that is necessary to a Man, for the Conservation of the Individual and the Propagation of the Species, is his natural Right, which none can justly deprive him of: But all Property superfluous to such purposes is the Property of the Publick, who, by their Laws, have created it, and who may therefore by other Laws dispose of it, whenever the Welfare of the Publick shall demand such Disposition. He that does not like civil Society on these Terms, let him retire and live among Savages. He can have no right to the benefits of Society, who will not pay his Club towards the Support of it.
Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Franklin to Robert Morris, 25 Dec. 1783
Private Property therefore is a Creature of Society, and is subject to the Calls of that Society, whenever its Necessities shall require it, even to its last Farthing; its Contributions therefore to the public Exigencies are not to be considered as conferring a Benefit on the Publick, entitling the Contributors to the Distinctions of Honour and Power, but as the Return of an Obligation previously received, or the Payment of a just Debt.
Benjamin Franklin, Queries and Remarks respecting Alterations in the Constitution of Pennsylvania, 1789
Odes of praise to the common law, and mistrust of legislative modifications of it, allow libertarians to say that the true benchmark of rights is provided by the older rules, not the newer ones. Judged against this standard, of course, the rules that benefit employers, landlords and manufacturers simply define liberty and property rights whereas the rules that benefit workers, tenants and consumers are interferences with liberty. The rules one likes are the foundations of sacred property rights, those one does not like are meddlesome regulation. This is a nice trick...
James Boyle, "Foucault in cyberspace -- Chapter 2: Libertarianism, Property and Harm" pg. 19.
All forms of society grant freedoms to, and impose unfreedoms on, people, and no society, therefore, can be condemned just because certain people lack certain freedoms in it. But societies have structurally different ways of inducing distributions of freedom, and, in a society like ours, where freedom is to a massive extent granted and withheld through the distribution of money, that fact, that money structures freedom, is often not appreciated in its full significance, and an illusion develops that freedom in a society like ours is not restricted by the distribution of money. This lecture exposes that illusion.
G. A. Cohen, "Freedom and Money"
Libertarianism is, in the end, not so much about liberty as it is about protecting and enforcing absolute property and contract rights.
Samuel Freeman, "Illiberal Libertarians: Why Libertarianism Is Not a Liberal View" pg. 133
Libertarians of course deny the institutional conception of property. Fundamental to their arguments are ideas of noncooperative natural property and pre-social ownership. They assume the lucidity of these concepts, and take it as self-evident that property involves unrestricted rights to use and dispose of things.
Samuel Freeman, "Illiberal Libertarians: Why Libertarianism Is Not a Liberal View" pg. 130
Contra Locke, property is not made by mixing labor: it is made by mixing coercion.
Mike Huben, "Interview With Mike Huben, Creator Of Critiques Of Libertarianism"
All property rights necessarily infringe the liberties of others, as all entail reciprocal burdens on others, and in a world of scarcity, such burdens are often substantial.
Barbara Fried, "Left-Libertarianism: A Review Essay"
You must first make a government, before you can have property. There is no such thing as property without government.
General William Sherman, Letter to H. W. Hill, Camp on Big Black Septbr. 7. 1863
All ownership derives from occupation and violence. [...] That all rights derive from violence, all ownership from appropriation or robbery, we may freely admit to those who oppose ownership on considerations of natural law.
Ludwig von Mises, "Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis" Ch. 1, section 2.
Yet reason tells us that there is no property in durable objects, such as lands or houses, when carefully examined in passing from hand to hand, but must, in some period, have been founded on fraud and injustice.
David Hume, "Of The Original Contract"
The relentless emphasis on property’s abstract positives distracts our attention from the less-appealing reality that many people may always and only be those “dutyholders” whose behavior is subject to systematic “constraints” in favor of the rights of others. Such persons can hardly be “self-directing” in the manner promised by these happy property stories... In the situation of “no property,” one’s abstract rights to speech and liberty, like one’s abstract right to hold property, do not provide much actual freedom in the real world.
Jane Baron, "Property And "No Property""
David Hume, the Scottish philosopher, liked to point out that private property is a monopoly granted and maintained by public authority at the public's expense.
Stephen Holmes & Cass Sunstein, "The Cost of Rights: Why Liberty Depends on Taxes", p. 61.
At common law, only the sovereign is said to have an absolute interest in land: ordinary landowners 'hold of the sovereign.'
Stephen Holmes & Cass Sunstein, "The Cost of Rights: Why Liberty Depends on Taxes", p. 63.
If the State may be said to properly own its territory, then it is proper for it to make rules for anyone who presumes to live in that area. It can legitimately seize or control private property because there is no private property in its area, because it really owns the entire land surface. So long as the State permits its subjects to leave its territory, then, it can be said to act as does any other owner who sets down rules for people living on his property.
Murray Rothbard, "The Ethics of Liberty" p. 172.
But the Grab World baseline allows us to see that all economic institutions are restrictions and infringements on liberty. Property is the most liberty-destroying and all-encompassing of the restrictive economic institutions, but contracts, patents, copyrights, securities, corporations, and so on do the same thing. With Grab World as the actual blank slate starting point baseline, it's clear that all we are debating about is what set of liberty-infringing restrictions are the best ones (unless you actually advocate the Grab World).
Matt Bruenig, "The Lesson of Grab What You Can"
While it is a moot question whether the origin of any kind of property is derived from Nature at all … it is considered by those who have seriously considered the subject, that no one has, of natural right, a separate property in an acre of land … Stable ownership is the gift of social law, and is given late in the progress of society.
Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson to Isaac McPherson, 13 Aug. 1813
But we know God hath not left one man so to the mercy of another, that he may starve him if he please: God the Lord and Father of all has given no one of his children such a property in his peculiar portion of the things of this world, but that he has given his needy brother a right to the surplusage of his goods; so that it cannot justly be denied him, when his pressing wants call for it: and therefore no man could ever have a just power over the life of another by right of property in land or possessions; since it would always be a sin, in any man of estate, to let his brother perish for want of affording him relief out of his plenty.
John Locke, "Two Treatises on Government, Chapter 4, §. 42."
Amartya Sen has pointed out that all contemporary moral theories, including libertarianism, are essentially egalitarian; we can press on from this observation to ask why, if (as Boaz maintains) the liberty of a human being to own another should be trumped by equal human rights, the liberty to own large amounts of property should not also be trumped by equal human rights. This alone would seem definitively to lay to rest the philosophical case for libertarianism.
Jeffrey Friedman, "What's Wrong With Libertarianism"
To my knowledge, all libertarian philosophers (except Conway), from Hayek to Nozick to James Buchanan to lesser-known writers such as Antony Flew and Tibor Machan, reject the positive-libertarian alternative, preferring to rely on the claim that only negative liberty is “real” liberty. It may be surprising that, 700 years after the collapse of Scholasticism, there should still be philosophers who assume that there are “correct” and “incorrect” definitions of words. But it would be a mistake to underestimate how important to libertarian philosophy is the conviction that only negative liberty captures the “essence” of the word liberty. Even if negative liberty is “true” liberty (and even if liberty is intrinsically valuable), however, this cannot constitute an argument for libertarianism without the further assumption that negative liberty is either uniquely or relatively embodied in libertarianism. The assumption that liberty is embodied in libertarianism relatively more than in other systems is necessarily false, however -- unless we are speaking of positive liberty -- since, as we have seen, there is no difference in the amount of negative liberty afforded people by libertarianism and by competing systems of property law.
Jeffrey Friedman, "What's Wrong With Libertarianism" pg. 431.
... libertarianism would simply be liberalism if not for its equation of “liberty” with private property.
Jeffrey Friedman, "What's Wrong With Libertarianism"