Distinctions of Ownership

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Quite large  discussions seem to have been sparked by my recent article counter posing Private Property to Possession, both in the comments of my own blog, and on the Austro-Athenian Empire. In both cases it’s an argument mostly between me and my generally communist views and Lockeanists who argue for the homesteading principle as defended by Murray Rothbard.

The discussion has already unfortunately grown impossible to manage through the comments of the AAE and as several questions have been put to me lately, I thought I might answer then in a new post. This might also give an opportunity of other Anarchists/Communists to engage or state their opinion on this, plus it will hopefully allow the discussion to flow better in my comment system which is built for it ;) .

RE: Private Property and Possession have only differences of detail and degree.

Mostly based on Kevin Carson’s article, is the idea that Possession and Private Property are simply parts on a scale of Ownership rights1, from less “sticky” to more, that is for Lockeanists, property rights, once claimed remain even if the original owner does not use them anymore or rents them out, while for Socialists, property rights remain only as long as use is maintained (with a grace period of unuse based on common sense of course)

But while this on first view seems like a small difference of degree, in functional terms, the difference is immense. To put it simply, for Socialists, wage labour and rent would be impossible as one cannot be said to own something that someone else uses.

While Lockeanists tend to concentrate on terms of unused land and claim something like “oh, the difference wouldn’t be so big between our systems. Why are we fighting then?” they miss the really fucking big difference it would make on the kind of society which would be formed on it. This is because without wage labour you cannot have Capitalism, as it is the most crucial gear by which accumulation (and thus investment) can occur. The difference does not lie in the original distribution of land, of which in the Lockeanist system will look benign, but in the results of this “sticky” possession.

This is why claims by Rothbard that all previous claims to property are null ring so hollow, since Rothbard ignores that along with the state enclosing on the commons or creating a buying monopoly (which he acknowledges), the Capitalist backed state also imposed the mentality of “sticky” property that most people did not hold, and which was of course for the benefit of the Capitalist. Thus to nullify the claims of the land but to insist that people retain a Lockeanist concept of property is as invalid as not wishing to nullify property claims at all. The result in any case would be similar. Property would start accumulating again and a system of inequality and authority would be built on top of it.

On the other hand, anarchists insist that you cannot make any difference unless, along with the state  and the unjust distribution it enforced, you also utilize possessive ownership which will allow the egalitarian system (for which people undoubtedly revolted for) to remain in place.

RE: Wouldn’t lending undermine the concept of Possession?

The question put by Roderick seems to be this: Even in a possessive system, lending would still happen, that is, people would still allow others to borrow their cars, or use their lawnmowers. If this is possible without having to change ownership in between, then this would mean that the difference between possession and PP is a matter of degree.

Certainly lending would still be possible under a possessive system, but it wouldn’t be based on rent. A rent for any item, can be seen to mean that the other person is paying towards ownership of it. As such, if I borrow your car for a day or a week, by common sense most people would recognise that it’s not my car now as it was based on a favour. People would have to throw their senses out of the window to recognise either result (It goes against all people’s interests basically). However in order for you to somehow convince me that I would have to pay you an amount to borrow your car, but then your car would still be yours, would require something more. It would require inequality.

Think of it this way. Such acts of renting do not happen between friends even now, even though such acts would be perfectly legal and in the self-interest of those involved. Even under dire circumstances, a friend would not ask another for money to help (quite the contrary in fact). This is because friendships, at the core, are about equal individuals wanting to relate to each other. This equality and most importantly, the recognition of it in the minds of those involved, is what instinctively prevents them from asking for rent. Likewise, in an egalitarian society, such as those based on possession, any lending would happen based on needs, and not for profit. Were one to ask for such a profit from the other, it would immediately sour their relationship, as well as most likely the relationship they have with the rest of society. Just think of how would you react if you suddenly needed a friend’s car to head for a week vacation and he asked you for rent (obviously, over any maintenance that may happen). You’re most likely to decline the offer and go rent from a shop, even if it’s more expensive.

So in short, while lending would still happen with a possessive ownership, it wouldn’t undermine it, nor would it put it on the same scale as Lockeanism. It would simply be based on common sense and maintaining the egalitarianism that exists.

That’s it for now. There’s more question posted over at the AAE but I think this post has already grown quite long. I urge you to check it and give you perspective as the contributors seem an amiable bunch :)

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  1. Mutualists generally call all ownership rights ‘Property’, but this is different from my use of ‘Property’ by which I generally mean the Lockeanist take. []

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