Friday, December 9, 2011

History of Property Rights and The State

 From Wikipedia:  (Posted here to reference in a discussion thread on Occupy Chicago.) 

Thomas Hobbes (17th century)
The principal writings of Thomas Hobbes appeared between 1640 and 1651—during and immediately following the war between forces loyal to King Charles I and those loyal to Parliament. In his own words, Hobbes' reflection began with the idea of "giving to every man his own," a phrase he drew from the writings of Cicero. But he wondered: How can anybody call anything his own? He concluded: My own can only truly be mine if there is one unambiguously strongest power in the realm, and that power treats it as mine, protecting its status as such.

James Harrington (17th century)
A contemporary of Hobbes, James Harrington, reacted differently to the same tumult; he considered property natural but not inevitable. The author of 'Oceana', he may have been the first political theorist to postulate that political power is a consequence, not the cause, of the distribution of property. He said that the worst possible situation is one in which the commoners have half a nation's property, with crown and nobility holding the other half—a circumstance fraught with instability and violence. A much better situation (a stable republic) will exist once the commoners own most property, he suggested. In later years, the ranks of Harrington's admirers included American revolutionary and founder John Adams.

Robert Filmer (17th century)
Another member of the Hobbes/Harrington generation, Sir Robert Filmer, reached conclusions much like Hobbes', but through Biblical exegesis. Filmer said that the institution of kingship is analogous to that of fatherhood, that subjects are but children, whether obedient or unruly, and that property rights are akin to the household goods that a father may dole out among his children—his to take back and dispose of according to his pleasure.

John Locke (17th century)
In the following generation, John Locke sought to answer Filmer, creating a rationale for a balanced constitution in which the monarch had a part to play, but not an overwhelming part. Since Filmer's views essentially require that the Stuart family be uniquely descended from the patriarchs of the Bible, and since even in the late 17th century that was a difficult view to uphold, Locke attacked Filmer's views in his First Treatise on Government, freeing him to set out his own views in the Second Treatise on Civil Government. Therein, Locke imagined a pre-social world, the unhappy residents of which create a social contract. They would, he allowed, create a monarchy, but its task would be to execute the will of an elected legislature.

"To this end" he wrote, meaning the end of their own long life and peace, "it is that men give up all their natural power to the society they enter into, and the community put the legislative power into such hands as they think fit, with this trust, that they shall be governed by declared laws, or else their peace, quiet, and property will still be at the same uncertainty as it was in the state of nature."

Even when it keeps to proper legislative form, though, Locke held that there are limits to what a government established by such a contract might rightly do.
"It cannot be supposed that [the hypothetical contractors] they should intend, had they a power so to do, to give any one or more an absolute arbitrary power over their persons and estates, and put a force into the magistrate's hand to execute his unlimited will arbitrarily upon them; this were to put themselves into a worse condition than the state of nature, wherein they had a liberty to defend their right against the injuries of others, and were upon equal terms of force to maintain it, whether invaded by a single man or many in combination. Whereas by supposing they have given up themselves to the absolute arbitrary power and will of a legislator, they have disarmed themselves, and armed him to make a prey of them when he pleases..."

Note that both "persons and estates" are to be protected from the arbitrary power of any magistrate, inclusive of the "power and will of a legislator." In Lockean terms, depredations against an estate are just as plausible a justification for resistance and revolution as are those against persons. In neither case are subjects required to allow themselves to become prey. To explain the ownership of property Locke advanced a labor theory of property.

William Blackstone (18th century)
In the 1760s, William Blackstone sought to codify the English common law. In his famous Commentaries on the Laws of England he wrote that "every wanton and causeless restraint of the will of the subject, whether produced by a monarch, a nobility, or a popular assembly is a degree of tyranny." How should such tyranny be prevented or resisted? Through property rights, Blackstone thought, which is why he emphasized that indemnification must be awarded a non-consenting owner whose property is taken by eminent domain, and that a property owner is protected against physical invasion of his property by the laws of trespass and nuisance. Indeed, he wrote that a landowner is free to kill any stranger on his property between dusk and dawn, even an agent of the King, since it isn't reasonable to expect him to recognize the King's agents in the dark.

David Hume (18th century)
In contrast to the figures discussed in this section thus far, David Hume lived a relatively quiet life that had settled down to a relatively stable social and political structure. He lived the life of a solitary writer until 1763 when, at 52 years of age, he went off to Paris to work at the British embassy.  In contrast, one might think, to his outrage-generating works on religion and his skeptical views in epistemology, Hume's views on law and property were quite conservative.
He did not believe in hypothetical contracts, or in the love of mankind in general, and sought to ground politics upon actual human beings as one knows them. "In general," he wrote, "it may be affirmed that there is no such passion in human mind, as the love of mankind, merely as such, independent of personal qualities, or services, or of relation to ourselves." Existing customs should not lightly be disregarded, because they have come to be what they are as a result of human nature. With this endorsement of custom comes an endorsement of existing governments, because he conceived of the two as complementary: "A regard for liberty, though a laudable passion, ought commonly to be subordinate to a  reverence for established government."
These views led to a view on property rights that might today be described as legal positivism. There are property rights because of and to the extent that the existing law, supported by social customs, secure them. He offered some practical home-spun advice on the general subject, though, as when he referred to avarice as "the spur of industry," and expressed concern about excessive levels of taxation, which "destroy industry, by engendering despair."

Smith and Ricardo
"Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is, in reality, instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have property against those who have none at all." — Adam SmithThe Wealth of Nations, 1776 

By the mid 19th century, the industrial revolution had transformed England and had begun in France. The established conception of what constitutes property expanded beyond land to encompass scarce goods in general. In France, the revolution of the 1790s had led to large-scale confiscation of land formerly owned by church and king. The restoration of the monarchy led to claims by those dispossessed to have their former lands returned. Furthermore, the labor theory of value popularized by classical economists such as Adam Smith[citation needed]and David Ricardo were utilized by a new ideology called socialism to critique the relations of property to other economic issues, such as profit, rent, interest, and wage-labor. Thus, property was no longer an esoteric philosophical question, but a political issue of substantial concern.
[edit]Charles Comte – legitimate origin of property
Charles Comte, in Traité de la propriété (1834), attempted to justify the legitimacy of private property in response to the Bourbon Restoration. According to David Hart, Comte had three main points: "firstly, that interference by the state over the centuries in property ownership has had dire consequences for justice as well as for economic productivity; secondly, that property is legitimate when it emerges in such a way as not to harm anyone; and thirdly, that historically some, but by no means all, property which has evolved has done so legitimately, with the implication that the present distribution of property is a complex mixture of legitimately and illegitimately held titles." (The Radical Liberalism of Charles Comte and Charles Dunoyer
Comte, as Proudhon later did, rejected Roman legal tradition with its toleration of slavery. He posited a communal "national" property consisting of non-scarce goods, such as land in ancient hunter-gatherer societies. Since agriculture was so much more efficient than hunting and gathering, private property appropriated by someone for farming left remaining hunter-gatherers with more land per person, and hence did not harm them. Thus this type of land appropriation did not violate the Lockean proviso – there was "still enough, and as good left." Comte's analysis would be used by later theorists in response to the socialist critique on property.

Pierre Proudhon – property is theft
In his 1849 treatise What is Property?Pierre Proudhon answers with "Property is theft!" In natural resources, he sees two types of property, de jure property (legal title) and de factoproperty (physical possession), and argues that the former is illegitimate. Proudhon's conclusion is that "property, to be just and possible, must necessarily have equality for its condition."

His analysis of the product of labor upon natural resources as property (usufruct) is more nuanced. He asserts that land itself cannot be property, yet it should be held by individual possessors as stewards of mankind with the product of labor being the property of the producer. Proudhon reasoned that any wealth gained without labor was stolen from those who labored to create that wealth. Even a voluntary contract to surrender the product of labor to an employer was theft, according to Proudhon, since the controller of natural resources had no moral right to charge others for the use of that which he did not labor to create and therefore did not own. Proudhon's theory of property greatly influenced the budding socialist movement, inspiring anarchist theorists such as Mikhail Bakunin who modified Proudhon's ideas, as well as antagonizing theorists like Karl Marx.

Frédéric Bastiat – property is value
Frédéric Bastiat's main treatise on property can be found in chapter 8 of his book Economic Harmonies (1850).[21] In a radical departure from traditional property theory, he defines property not as a physical object, but rather as a relationship between people with respect to an object. Thus, saying one owns a glass of water is merely verbal shorthand for I may justly gift or trade this water to another person. In essence, what one owns is not the object but the value of the object. By "value," Bastiat apparently means market value; he emphasizes that this is quite different from utility. "In our relations with one another, we are not owners of the utility of things, but of their value, and value is the appraisal made of reciprocal services."

Strongly disputing Proudhon's equality-based argument, Bastiat theorizes that, as a result of technological progress and the division of labor, the stock of communal wealth increases over time; that the hours of work an unskilled laborer expends to buy e.g. 100 liters of wheat decreases over time, thus amounting to "gratis" satisfaction. Thus, private property continually destroys itself, becoming transformed into communal wealth. The increasing proportion of communal wealth to private property results in a tendency toward equality of mankind. "Since the human race started from the point of greatest poverty, that is, from the point where there were the most obstacles to be overcome, it is clear that all that has been gained from one era to the next has been due to the spirit of property."

This transformation of private property into the communal domain, Bastiat points out, does not imply that private property will ever totally disappear. This is because man, as he progresses, continually invents new and more sophisticated needs and desires.

Contemporary views
Among contemporary political thinkers who believe that natural persons enjoy rights to own property and to enter into contracts, there are two views about John Locke. On the one hand there are ardent Locke admirers, such as W.H. Hutt (1956), who praised Locke for laying down the "quintessence of individualism." On the other hand, there are those such as Richard Pipes who think that Locke's arguments are weak, and that undue reliance thereon has weakened the cause of individualism in recent times. Pipes has written that Locke's work "marked a regression because it rested on the concept of Natural Law" rather than upon Harrington's sociological framework.
Hernando de Soto has argued that an important characteristic of capitalist market economy is the functioning state protection of property rights in a formal property system where ownership and transactions are clearly recorded. These property rights and the whole formal system of property make possible:

  • Greater independence for individuals from local community arrangements to protect their assets; Clear, provable, and protectable ownership;
  • The standardization and integration of property rules and property information in the country as a whole;
  • Increased trust arising from a greater certainty of punishment for cheating in economic transactions;
  • More formal and complex written statements of ownership that permit the easier assumption of shared risk and ownership in companies, and insurance against risk;
  • Greater availability of loans for new projects, since more things could be used as collateral for the loans;
  • Easier access to and more reliable information regarding such things as credit history and the worth of assets;
  • Increased fungibility, standardization and transferability of statements documenting the ownership of property, which paves the way for structures such as national markets for companies and the easy transportation of property through complex networks of individuals and other entities;
  • Greater protection of biodiversity due to minimizing of shifting agriculture practices.

All of the above enhance economic growth.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please feel free to comment or make suggestions