On Property

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by Enrique Lescure

Introduction

Within the Anglo-American, and then specifically American political discourse, the dominant paradigm for around two generations right now is that the main guarantor of liberty (defined as the absence of physical force) is the institution of private property, and the main threat against private property and thence liberty is the state. While the purest expression of these sentiments reside amongst Market Libertarian elements, these thoughts have come to dominate a lot of the thinking within political economics in the west, and thence in the world.

This article will try to challenge that view, while not going in-depth on what property is, we will address the issues of property and security, property and its relationship to the state, and how property may be arranged in a hypothetical future post-monetary society.

TL;DR Summary

  • There are many definitions on the concept of property.
  • According to law, property is an exclusive and primary proprietorship to items and particular production factors.
  • The historical evidence point towards the ascendancy of the state as a consequence of property conflicts.
  • Therefore, the state as understood in the context of Eurasian political traditions have been primarily established to keep stability between property-owners and between the property-owners and the have-nots.
  • Property has a few characteristics in today’s context which serves to undermine the liberty and autonomy of majorities.
  • Property arrangements have to be fitted into local, regional, social, historical and before everything environmental contexts in order to help strengthen and protect individual liberties.

On Property definitions

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In most hunter-gatherer societies, the idea of private property is seen as ludicruous, mostly because people living on that level have no need for it. When agriculture started to replace gathering, it took centuries if not millennia for the concept of private property to emerge. To a large extent, it can be said to be population growth that was the driver of the movement towards property.

Early agriculture was only possible in very limited and concentrated geographical locations, leading to a concentration of people of diverse backgrounds into comparatively small areas. The surplus of agricultural production probably also attracted outsiders who either weren’t welcome to grow food (because all available space had been taken), or who weren’t simply interesting, instead settling nearby in the wildernesses and carrying out raids against the farmers.

Thus, the farmers probably formed militias to protect their surplus, which subsequently created the first state embryos. In some cases, bands of marauders overran the defences of the village communities, took their surplus and then formed predatory warrior aristocracies.

Regarding of which, already the earliest Law codes were centered on property, inheritance and the buying and selling of land, goods and services. In most cases, this property regulation was combined with cultural and spiritual institutions claiming some sort of divine foundation of exclusive ownership regulated by Law codes.

To a large extent, the State as an invention was a solution to the need of the codification of property rights, especially as society was segmenting into land-owning oligarchies and toiling farm labourers. To some extent, the state was both established to give those without property a sense of a place to turn to, to announce their grievances, but also to defend the interests of economic elites and keep peace between the wealthy minority and the impoverished majority.

These basic functions of the State are still innately connected to the legal structures and institutional norms of most modern states today, namely to protect property relationships and (informally) the elites that are supporting and in many cases constituting the state itself.

According to schools heralding from Classical Liberal Thought, property should be seen as a basis for “natural rights” which each human being is endowed with, and presupposes the existence of states or laws. This ideological construction is created to help support cultural barriers to prevent the state to confiscate and redistribute property.

There is however a self-contradiction resting herein, that property is both considered “secular-sacrosanct” (at least in the Anglo-Saxon and North-West European tradition) and as a concept formed by law – i.e by the state (with more or less direct representation of the people). Moreover, for a state to function, it needs to have authority over property and be able to tax labour, capital or land.

Private vs Public, Centralization versus De-centralization

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The until 2008 prevailing economistic paradigm in the West, called “Neo-Liberal” first by the proponents and later by the detractors held to its core that more private property, no matter in what form, was good for the economy as a whole, and thence public utilities as well as other commodities would work better in private hands.

In this regard, the Neo-Liberals saw mega-corporations and the neighbourly Ice Cream Kiosk as the same type of economic actor.

Socialists of the more hardcore variety have tested the implementation of “anti-capitalist” economic systems, based around state ownership of resources, infrastructure and businesses to varying degrees. The most all-encompassing of these experiments occurred in the so-called “People’s Democracies” during the Cold War. Command economies tended to cause mass destruction of social eco-systems and deaths of thousands to millions due to the collectivization of agriculture, ensure a rapid industrial growth but fail to move on to a consumer society (while still devastating the environment).

This, proponents of market capitalism are arguing, means that the free market is always superior in all regards to all other conceivable systems (a binarization of potential economic systems into two, planned economies and market economies).

Of course, simplification is very much what the art of politics is about, but no one is served by a politization and a simplification of how reality is(n’t) working.

Ultimately, we need to move away from a legalistic to an organic understanding of the economy, since the economy can ultimately be described as a series of interlinks that transforms resources into utilities and products aimed to be sold on a market. The market is one aspect of this chain, but is not either a legalistic entity nor a moral constant, but an evolving economic super-organism.

No one is desiring to replace the market with a command economy (well, almost no one), as the market retains a higher degree of adaptability and (generally) co-participation from the partakers. What we need to discuss is however how we can establish a post-capitalistic system while retaining the good aspects of the market. Therefore, we need to discuss property from a utilitaristic perspective rather than as an imperative.

The privatizations of the 1980’s and 1990’s in large parts of the developing world have (generally) grown the GDP of the countries involved, but GDP is not a very good determinator of wealth, if the growth goes near-exclusively to the top 20% of a country. Moreover, the very nature of these privatizations have been aimed towards gaining foreign capital by selling out utilities, public companies and natural resources to multi-national corporations.

1792This means that things that are necessary for a community to develop well and organically are sold out to entities that do not have any local basis whatsoever, and which are driven by the sole purpose to gather profit for share-holders on the other side of the Earth. This process creates a situation where people are often seeing their real autonomy deteriorate to the point where they are indirectly forced to migrate to expanding urban sprawls, leading to the formation of favelas and shantytowns.

To some extent, this process of creative destruction makes more labour available for sweatshop owners in countries favoured for industrial production. If we look at it with a sober perspective however, there’s a clear co-relationship between exponential economic growth of the traditional variety today, and the over-exploitation of the eco-systems. In short, what we need to do today is to consciously move toward a transition towards a system that is not reliant on exponential growth, while guaranteeing all human beings a good life.

Thus, concluding this segment, what we can see is that the utilitarian growth-oriented aspects of propertization of resources is in many ways disturbing local communities and destroying their opportunity for livelihood, which must be seen as one of the things that property advocates claim that private property in itself would guarantee.

The conclusion

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The conclusion is that property as a concept can be useful, but that it should not be defined in a manner that makes it an imperative metaphysical object of reveration since reality is not arranged around metaphysical concepts, but rather as an aspect that regulates human behaviour. In that manner, we must move beyond pure legalism and instead shape our relationship with our surroundings after local social, individual and ecological needs.

This means for example that natural resources should always primarily be considered the property of the people who dwell around the place where the natural resouce is located (unless it is located in remote or uninhabited locations). They should have the last word whether the natural resource should be utilized, by whom and in what manner. Above it, there should be ecological and social concerns that would be devised through statutes to help people shape the relationship with their surroundings.

Overall, what we can see is that the more remote control over resources become, the less autonomy and liberty is exerted by the local population. Therefore, it follows that both control through centralised command economies and by multi-national corporations primarily tend to disturb local social eco-systems (and also eco-systems in general).

The control of resources must be established on local level, through arrangements that include so many of the participants as possible in the decisionmaking process. This would also be needed to be regulated by statutes regarding human rights and social obligations.

The technate and property

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The Earth Organisation for Sustainability views it as a necessary step for human civilization to move on to a post-monetary society in the long-term. We must know how much resources we have available, and have systems installed that allows us to manage these resources intelligently.

Ultimately, the dominant production factors will be land and technology. Capital will basically become land (energy units), and will be used primarily to track production capability. A concept which will become more important will be usership, namely that citizens are granted time-based access to production capabilities. However, there is no reason to not assume should not be able to own for example project groups and similar.

There must also be a localism inherent in the model that seeks to it that decisions regarding people’s livelihood and lives are made as close as those affected by it as possible (if the local people however do not desire that amount of control they should be given the opportunity to thank no).

We must have a thorough discussion on how we should ensure the autonomy and liberty of individuals in the future, while we must bear in mind that the relationships and behaviours that we create during the transition process will affect these aspects of the technate in the future. Therefore, it is important that we grow organically.

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2 Comments

  1. September 6, 2015 at 7:58 am

    […] Fonte: On Property […]

  2. tai777 said,

    September 6, 2015 at 8:01 am

    Reblogged this on ecotecnocracia and commented:
    Um texto bem fundamentado de uma experiência em andamento na Suécia.


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