The Myth of Common Property

An Observation by L.A. Repucci

It has been proposed that there exists a state in which property — whether defined in the physical sense such as objects, products, buildings, roads, etc, or financial instruments such as monetary instruments, corporate title, or deed to land ownership — may be owned or possessed in common; that is to say, that property may be possessed of multiple rightful claimants simultaneously.  This suggestion, when examined rationally and exhaustively, is untenable from the perspective of any logical school of economic, social, and indeed physical school of thought, and balks at simple scrutiny.

In law, Property may be defined as the tangible product of enterprise and resources, or the gain of capital wealth which it may create.  To ‘hold’ Property, a Party, or private, sentient entity, must have rightful claim to it and be capable of using it freely as they see fit, in keeping with natural law.

Natural resources, including land, are said to be owned either jurisdictionally by State, privately by party, or in common to the natural world.  If property may be legally defined only as a product, then natural resources may be excluded from all laws pertaining to legal property.  If property also may be further defined by the ability of it’s owner to use it as they see fit, in keeping with Ius Naturale, then any property claimed jurisdictionally by the State and said to be held in common amongst the citizenry must meet the article of usage to be legally owned.  Consider Hardin’s tragedy of the commons as an argument for the conservation of private property over a state of nature, rather than an appeal to the economic law of scarcity or an appeal to the second law of thermodynamics ,

In Physics:  Property may be defined as either an observable state of physical being.  The universe of Einstein, Kepler, and Newton rests soundly on the tenet that physical bodies cannot occupy multiple physical locations simultaneously.  The laws that govern the macro-physical world do not operate in the same way on the quantum level.  At that comparatively tiny level, the rules of our known universe break down, and matter may exhibit the observed property of being at multiple locations simultaneously — bully and chalk 1 point for common property on the theoretically-quantum scale.

Currency:  The attempt to simultaneously possess and use currency as defined above would result in praxeologic market-hilarity in the best case, and imprisonment or physical injury in the worst.  Observe: Two friends in common possession of 1$ walk into a corner shop to buy a pack of chewing gum, which costs 1$.  They each place a pack on the counter, and present the cashier with their single dollar bill.  “It’s both of ours!  We earned it in business together!” they beam as the cashier calls the cops and racks a shotgun under the register…

The two friends above may not use the paper currency simultaneously — while the concept of a dollar representing two, exclusively owned fifty-percent equity shares may be widely and innately understood — the single bill is represented in specie among the parties would still be 2 pairs of quarters.  While they could pool their resources and ‘both’ purchase a single pack of gum, they would continue to own a 50% equity share in the pack — resulting in a division yet again of title equally between the dozen-or-so sticks of gum contained therein.  This reduction and division of ownership can proceed ad quantum.

This simple reason is applicable within and demonstrated by current and universal economic realities, including all claims of joint title, common property law, jurisdictional issues, corporate law, and financial liability.  A joint bank account is simply the sum of the parties’ individual interest in that account — claims to hold legal property in common are bunk.

The human condition is marked by the sovereignty, independence and isolation of one’s own thought.  Praxeological thought-experiments like John Searle’s Chinese Room Argument and Alan Turing’s Test would not be possible to pose in a human reality that was other than a state of individual mental separation.  As we are alone in our thoughts, our experience of reality can only be communicated to one another.  It is therefore not possible to ever ‘share’ an experience with any other sentient being, because it is not possible to perceive reality as another person…even if the technology should develop such that multiple individuals can network and share the information within their minds, that information must still filter through another individual consciousness in order to be experienced simultaneously.  The physical separation of two minds is reinforced by the rationally-necessary separation of distinct individuals.  There may exist a potential hive-mind collectivist state, but it would require such a radical change to that which constitutes the human condition, that it would violate the tenets of what it is to be human.

In conclusion, logically, the most plausible circumstance in which property could exist in common would be on the quantum level within a hive-minded non-human collective, and the laws that govern men are and should be an accurate extension of the laws that govern nature — not through Social Darwinism, but rather anthropology.  Humans, as an adaptation, work interdependently to thrive, which often includes the voluntary sharing and trading of resources and property…none of which are held in common.

Ad Quantum,

L.A. Repucci

19 thoughts on “The Myth of Common Property

  1. My mother moved in with me after her hip replacement. Being too lazy to cook, my freezer is usually stocked with a variety of microwavable dinners and snacks. This collection of dinners is owned in common. That means whoever gets to it first becomes the new exclusive owner.

    To “own something in common” never implies that two people have use of it at the same time. It means that one or the other may claim exclusive ownership or exclusive use at some point in time. (An example of temporary exclusive use would be a seat on the bench in a public park).

    But the article raises another issue, which I’ll call the “myth of the unassailable argument”. An example would be a fairly simple problem peppered with extraneous academic references to make the problem appear more complex than the average person could handle.

    For example, this is the second time someone has suggested that a knowledge of quantum physics is necessary to understanding ethical or political issues!

    Another example would be the introduction of other meanings for the same word. The “property” as in what a person may own (“that’s my chair!”) is quite different from “property” as in a quality of something (“the apple has redness”).

    Yet another would be a belabored statement of the obvious, such as “two people are actually two separate people” becomes instead an issue that must be resolved through speculations on artificial intelligence.

    As to the joint checking account, it also follows the rule that whoever writes the check owns that portion of the account from that point in time.

    • Being too lazy to cook, my freezer is usually stocked with a variety of microwavable dinners and snacks. This collection of dinners is owned in common.

      Lol.

      Who bought the dinners Martin? If your mommy bought the dinners then they’re her property. If you bought the dinners then they’re your property. The fact that the other person is free to eat them doesn’t mean that the dinners are “owned in common.”

      I’m looking at my watch now, and amateur hour is almost over…

  2. Libertarians have a myth about private property. They believe that any property not yet claimed or not yet put into productive use, may be claimed by the person who puts it to productive use. It then becomes theirs for private, exclusive use. Any new products resulting from their labor also become their property (crops grown, cabins built).

    And this sounds reasonable, at first. But then they carry it to extremes, insisting that taxation is a form of theft, because it requires them to unwillingly give part of what they own to someone else, the government. They fail to recognize the legitimate claim of the government to payments to cover the cost of services provided, which is ethically similar to the rent paid to the landlord to maintain the building.

    When the people of a territory form a state or nation, they also cede a form of land purchase option called “eminent domain”. To meet the need for an efficient system of public roads, someone’s private property may be required. The government pays a fair price for the property, but the owner has no legal refusal to sell.

    • I do not wish to be guilty of making a “straw man” argument. If I have misrepresented Libertarian theory in any way, then any reader who knows or understands it better than I should feel free to correct me.

      It would waste my time and yours to tilt at windmills. But if libertarian theories are in fact windmills, that cannot be concretely defined and defended, then what am I supposed to do?

    • Marvin:

      Do you have a citation to back up your claim? Have you provided one at all in any of threads over the past couple of days? Unless you are an authority on libertarianism I think that your claims need to be backed up by some kind of literature.

      You are more than welcome to stay here, but I suggest that if you don’t know what you are talking about it would be better for clarity and understanding if you asked questions rather than made unsupported accusations. As it stands, your thoughts are not contributing to a better understanding of libertarianism (pro or con).

    • Brandon: “Unless you are an authority on libertarianism I think that your claims need to be backed up by some kind of literature.”

      Most of what I know is from conversations with self-professed libertarians over the past 20 years or so. I first ran into Libertarians during the Clinton administration when I was looking for on-line discussions related to the balanced budget amendment. It was probably on the NTUF bulletin board (National Taxpayers Union Forum). But later I visited some specifically libertarian forums, but I don’t recall the names. The small group on NTUF took on Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom” as a discussion topic with a chapter each week.

      I have a few books at home and a copy of one of Rothbard’s in PDF format, but I’m a horribly slow reader so I don’t read that much.

      Also, there’s the problem you pointed out to Terry, which book do you choose? I think the book from CATO takes a more mellow and modern approach. For example, I couldn’t find them repeating Ron Paul’s argument that civil rights laws were unnecessary and violated the right of restaurant owners to their “freedom of association” (“Whites Only” sign).

      So I take libertarians as I find them online and work with that.

      If I make the wrong guess as to what you believe or promote, then please correct me. But, like I say, I’ve spent a lot of time getting to know libertarians through these conversations.

      Oh, you may be wondering why. I like to think of it as missionary work. I find many innocent sounding ideas that produce immoral results. The “Whites Only” sign is one example.

    • Most of what I know is from conversations with self-professed libertarians over the past 20 years or so.

      So you don’t have any sort of literature with which to base your arguments off of. You’re just using your imagination to attack the bloggers here, Martin, and that’s pretty pathetic.

    • Brandon: “You’re just using your imagination to attack the bloggers here, Martin, and that’s pretty pathetic.”

      I haven’t been attacking anyone, Brandon. I attack the ideas that I believe are wrong, but not the people who hold them.

      Anyone can be wrong. And anyone who wants to be right more often has to admit when they are wrong and learn from their mistakes.

      And I’m pretty sure the libertarians I’ve conversed with on-line were not figments of my imagination.

  3. @Brandon
    “If you bought the dinners then they’re your property. The fact that the other person is free to eat them doesn’t mean that the dinners are “owned in common.”

    Is there a reason that I cannot confer joint ownership of property if it is my property? This seems a strange limitation of my property rights.

    I know that contracting is not inconsistent with libertarian views [ok, I think I know that…] so conferring limited property rights is fine, why not unlimited property rights? Why can’t Marvin and his mother generate a contract such that all frozen dinners are jointly owned regardless of which of them made the purchase?

    • Good question Dr A.

      Sure they could draw up a contract or simply have an implicit one. This is still joint ownership of private property though. Martin is attempting to muddle concepts (private property versus commonly-held property) rather than clarify LA’s argument (that’s what trolls do, after all!).

      I do have a quibble with LA’s post, and your question provides a neat segue for me to get into it.

      I don’t buy the argument that there is no such thing as commonly-held property. It’s pretty apparent in the anthropological and sociological literature that this is not the case. Elinor Ostrom, a political scientist, won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economics for her work on commonly-held property (see this summary from economist Peter Boettke in the Freeman for more on Ostrom’s work from a libertarian perspective if you’re interested).

      Generally there are three types of property: Private property, commonly-held property, and state-owned property. Contrary to popular thought, tragedies of the commons occur on state-owned properties (such as the Gulf of Mexico) rather than on commonly-held properties (which are actually governed quite well). Hardin’s was writing in the late 1960s and I think he just didn’t have the resources that social scientists have now (I also think his argument was a victim of the Cold War, just as much of the social science literature of that era was).

      This difference of opinion between LA and myself highlights one of the major rifts within libertarianism. We have our own Right-Left divide and generally speaking right-libertarians believe that private property is the end-all, be-all whereas left-libertarians argue that institutional diversity is better for freedom.

      Institutional diversity is a concept basically stating that private property and commonly-held property are not mutually exclusive, and there is nothing to suggest that the two systems can’t operate side-by-side with each other. This is all the more logical if one takes that old libertarian ethos of non-aggression into account.

      Most of us here at NOL are left-libertarians (although I don’t like the moniker), but Adam and LA are right-libertarians. The discussions that are prompted by their thoughtful posts are much-valued, but libertarians are infamous for their infighting and inability to organize under a common banner.

    • Brandon: “Martin is attempting to muddle concepts (private property versus commonly-held property) rather than clarify LA’s argument (that’s what trolls do, after all!).”

      And that would also be personal attack. Whenever you cast aspersions on someone rather than point out the error in their argument, it is an attack on the person rather than on the argument.

    • There is no personal attack here.

      You’re gone Martin. You can come back in two weeks. If you are still unable to act like an adult at that point in time your suspension will become permanent.

      PS: The Guardian has a new article out summarizing some recent research on trolls.

  4. The recent legislation in Kansas and Arizona brings up one more issue of Libertarian private property theory.

    Libertarians assert that the owner of a restaurant may post a “Whites Only” sign, because the property owner has complete control of the use of what they own. If the restaurant owner does not wish to have contact with a black man, then they can refuse to serve him a cup of coffee.

    I’ve been told often that this is no longer an issue due to the current state of things. But Kansas and Arizona wish to allow businesses to refuse service to gays. So the issue is still quite alive.

    I believe that the ability to be treated as any other customer, regardless of race, religion, or sexual orientation is an important civil liberty that the state must guarantee when private individuals will not.

    Libertarian theory of property in this case produces what I consider to be an immoral result.

  5. Just a note to acknowledge that my posts on Libertarian theory of private property rights are not on topic for this thread (property held in common). But since Terry said she wanted to know more about the Libertarian point of view, and there was earlier discussion about addressing several issues in different threads. Since we’re discussing property already, it seemed this might be a good place to address them.

    • “But since Terry said she wanted to know more about the Libertarian point of view, and there was earlier discussion about addressing several issues in different threads.”

      Ah, the perils of an androgynous name 🙂

Please keep it civil

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s