Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Property is power and power needs to be justifiable

What kind of relationship is property?
 
For a little while now I've stopped thinking of property as being a relationship between a person and an inanimate object. I instead think of it as primarily being a relationship between the one claiming ownership and everyone else, that relationship being based on a power imbalance where I demand the right to exclude others from possession or use of the thing in question.

So I've attempted to make a Proudhon-esque sound bite:

Property is power and power needs to be justifiable.

 
Civilised culture Vs Uncivilised culture
 
One of the primary differences between a civilised culture and an uncivilised one is found in answer to the question: Who is thought to be responsible for demonstrating whether power is legitimate or not, the person subject to it or the one wielding it? If those subject to power are expected to prove it is illegitimate then hierarchy is taken as a starting point, as a default, this doesn't hold up to facts; experience clearly tells us that we are all born equal! 

Power must be asked to justify itself
 
So power must justify itself and as every good libertarian will agree, it often can't. But when can the power to demand exclusive possession of property justify itself? What justification should satisfy any enquirer? I think the answer is simply when the person with the claim to it occupies or uses said property and came to do so peacefully, this is a natural, indisputable embodied claim on property (I.e. you can't have my house because I live in it and you'd have to kick me out to have it, or you can't have the tools of my trade because I'm in regular use of them and half the time you'd have to pry them from my hands to get them and the other half you'd have to break into my house and take them and we've already talked about my house!). I would suggest that anything beyond it is artificial and has only been conceived of in a statist environment where a monopoly on force has been utilised by a minority to enforce private property rights on a much, much wider class of stuff than this.

What does this mean for Capitalism?

In a free decentralised society absentee landlordism and capitalist ownership of the means of production are going to look very questionable. With no centralised land registry and the onus on the property owner to justify their claim to exclusive rights to it, will they be able to do so? I don't think so.