Deciding on an Ownership System

Kevin Carson mentions that the best type of property system probably cannot be found from logical deduction from the axiom of self-ownership. But should it?

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In the Mutualist Political Economy I’ve reached the point where Kevin is now discussing the similarities and differences between the property systems as proposed by Lockeanists, Georgists or Mutualists. What struck a chord with me was the point where he expressed the opinion that none of these three systems could be proven by a logical deduction from “the axiom of self-ownership” but rather only by social consensus.

Now while I agree with this position, I cannot help but ask why would we wish in the first place to logically deduce the property rights to use from an axiom which is meaningless and logically inconsistent to boot. This is asking us to take an ideological concept and from that discover normative propositions for people to follow. Not only that, but the more this ideological concept approaches the sterilized status of an axiom, the more incapable it becomes of providing a clear path to a normative proposition, as can be seen from the three different property concepts that can follow from it (and that is while ignoring the rest of the varied ideas that can stem from an “axiom” of self-ownership)

To leave it to the ideologues then is akin to waiting for the metaphorical priests to decide how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Any type of argumentation will most likely be based on shaky erections of logic which would simply lead to different people espousing the one that is closer to the current mentality and social status. A stagnating perspective.

But if the type of ownership that one society should use is not deductible from ideological positions, then how would a social consensus decide on a “particular set of allocation rules”? What kind of argumentation can be used to not simply reinforce currently held but also to actually change them based on some sort of proof?

The answer lies in departing from the ideological perspective altogether and looking for the answer from a utilitarian one. To put it more simply: Which type of ownership system would lead to the maximum amount of good for the maximum amount of people? In this kind of problem-solving, there is no space left for vacillations on the degree of difference between sticky or non-sticky property. There is no use pondering on which ownership system (Lockean or Mutualist) respects abstracts concepts the more. Just figure out what makes people live happy lives and what is the best system that will allow them to experience them.

The first part should be relatively easy ((“Easy” Only inasmuch as we already have the scientific method which we know is best for discovering descriptive facts about reality)) to discover using scientific principles in psychological and sociological research.

However the later is a normative question and as a result must involve an ethical reasoning which cannot be based on scientific methodology. It is from this reasoning that the type of property system we should be using be discovered then discussed and finally spread memetically to a larger and larger amount of people, until the required consensus is achieved.

And in this attempts for consensus, ideological concepts and logical structures erected around them only serve to distract, confuse and ultimately slow down this process.

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4 thoughts on “Deciding on an Ownership System”

  1. Thank you for linking to my entry.

    That being said, as an individualist, I must absolutely disagree that the only alternative is a cold, crass utilitarian calculation. Furthermore, such utilitarian processes are self-defeating because they will inevitably depend on the ownership system already in place: people who have more influence (in general, the people who own more) will have the most say in the new ownership system, and thus they will only seek to further their class interests.

    When we say ownership systems are anchored by social consensus, we do not mean that social consensus should create those systems, but rather that the societies should be built around the systems and aim to enforce a certain way of life. The way I understand it, we mean the exact opposite of what you're saying.

    1. First of all, I do not see why a utilitarian perspective must be cold and crass. That look like poisoning the well to me.

      Second, no the utilitarian solution is a normative one. It does not have to ultimately depend on what we have now available. For example a utilitarian perspective leads me to renounce private property in favour of possession.

      Nor will a new system be based on the influence of those who own more. I do not see how this can be, as those who own more now, obviously will wish to retain it as it is

    2. but rather that the societies should be built around the systems and aim to enforce a certain way of life. The way I understand it, we mean the exact opposite of what you're saying.

      That makes no sense. Who is going to decide which system to build a society around of? And since people will not have reached a consensus on the system they wish, how are you going to make them start building it?

  2. Systems are the best focus for ownership. Technology (such as servers or components) is not meaningful across the broader business. Business subjects (such as end-to-end processes or customer segments) do not have a direct IT implementation. Systems link business and technology. Focussing on systems lets business and IT talk about the same things.

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