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Labour theory of property vs Subjective theory of property

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LiberTed Posted: Wed, Mar 21 2012 11:31 AM

I have spent some time thinking of what exactly makes someone own something, but I could not figure out an exact answer. "The labour theory of property" (I own something if I mix my labour with it) is often cited as a justification for ownership, but I have felt that it does not fully convince me.

The use of the word "labour" got me thinking about "The labour theory of value" and then about "The subjective theory of value". As I was thinking I started playing with the thought of a "Subjective theory of property".

I took the principle of the stv (something has value because I think it has) and applied it to property. This basically made it "Someone owns property because I think they do" or "I value your ownership over an object more than I would value my ownership over it". By this I mean, for example, that you own your jacket because others think you do and that they value your ownership over it more than they would value their ownership over the jacket. Since if they did not do this and stole your jacket from you, they would probably suffer some sort of conflict, such as guilt, shame, ostracism or punishment. Most people value your ownership over the jacket more than they value conflict, which makes you the owner of the jacket. Although this valuing is a subjective process and does not apply to everyone.

The ltp and the "Homesteading principle" does not by themselves justify your ownership over something, however if you do mix your labour with property it is more probable that others will value your ownership over that property more than their own. Just like the price of an object does not depend on the amount of labour it took to create it, but it will probably influence the one valuing it.

In conclusion I would argue that there are no objective way to claim property, as there are no objective way of determining prices.

So what do you guys think, is there any substance to "The subjective theory of property"?

 

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John James replied on Wed, Mar 21 2012 11:51 AM

Welcome to the Mises Forum!

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LiberTed:
So what do you guys think, is there any substance to "The subjective theory of property"?

If you want to boil it down, you could argue that no rights exist in practice beyond their recognition by others.  But that's kind of a given.  It doesn't sound like your theory offers any reason for why someone should believe you own anything.

All it sounds like you've done is called attention to the fact that rights have to be recognized to be worth anything.  I'm not exactly sure how novel that is.

 

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There are two ways to look at something like homesteading.  The first, is that its a normative principle which tells us how someone comes to own property justly, rightly, or legitimately.  The second, is that its a descriptive principle which tells us how people just come to own property, period.  So depending on what you're trying to accomplish, your theory of property may or may not be the best way to go.

If we are trying to explain how people come to own property in the real world, homesteading theory can be inadequate.  After all, there are de facto owners of property who didn't homestead their property (or receive in a gift or exchange).  Here, it makes sense to adopt a subjectivist approach where ownership is a matter of peoples attitudes towards a person and object.  "This property is mine because a significant number of people (as well as prevailing laws) recognize it as such."

But if we are trying to figure out why this person ought to be the owner of that property, the kind of subjectivist approach you've advocated leaves a lot to be desired.  To say that property ought to be owned by whomever is thought to be the owner just doesn't address the question.  Homesteading really shines in this scenario, because it is clean and simple, and thoroughly grounded with a sense of justice.  "I was here first, I did all the work, this property is mine."

 

they said we would have an unfair fun advantage

"enough about human rights. what about whale rights?" -moondog
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LiberTed replied on Wed, Mar 21 2012 1:37 PM

I personally agree that the Homesteading principle is a reasonable way of determining ownership, however if someone does not adhere to it I can not objectively claim which is right.

I am not trying to claim that this theory is "fair"  to everyone. It is merely an attempt to explain how and why we subconsciously recognize and value ownership and property, as we do with determining prices.

Someone made the example in another thread I posted, of a black person who homesteads property in a neighbourhood of white supremacists and then asked if I did not think that this black person had a right to the property which he mixed his labour with. While I would personally say that the black person owns the homesteaded property, the white supremacists may not think the same way. This scenario would be a case where subjective theory of property is present.

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LiberTed:
Someone made the example in another thread I posted, of a black person who homesteads property in a neighbourhood of white supremacists and then asked if I did not think that this black person had a right to the property which he mixed his labour with. While I would personally say that the black person owns the homesteaded property, the white supremacists may not think the same way. This scenario would be a case where subjective theory of property is present.

I say again, you could boil everything down to a subjective theory of almost anything.  I could build the exact same argument around punching you in the face.  You could argue that you have a right to not have your lights knocked out, I may not see it that way.  "This scenario would be a case where subjective theory of not getting punched in the face is present."

 

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MaikU replied on Wed, Mar 21 2012 2:31 PM

All theories (about propery, non-agression, homesteading) must be universal and applied consistently to everybody. Otherwise they are no more than just mere opinions/preferences.

"Dude... Roderick Long is the most anarchisty anarchist that has ever anarchisted!" - Evilsceptic

(english is not my native language, sorry for grammar.)

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While I would personally say that the black person owns the homesteaded property, the white supremacists may not think the same way. This scenario would be a case where subjective theory of property is present.

I'm not sure if I'm interpreting this correctly, but I think you are taking subjectivism too far here.  Regardless of what White thinks, Black either does or doesn't own the property.  Your position seems to ask of every claim of ownership: "according to whom?"  While I don't disagree that the phenomenon of ownership arises out of individual attitudes and valuations, whether or not someone is an owner in any given case is not a subjective matter in the same way as whether or not vanilla ice cream is delicious.   

they said we would have an unfair fun advantage

"enough about human rights. what about whale rights?" -moondog
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LiberTed replied on Wed, Mar 21 2012 2:47 PM

Sure. Although people do not instinctivly go around punching other people in the face, but prices aswell as ownership are determined without consciously rationalizing them.

If I see you with your Ipod I do not sit and think: "Oh it is John's ipod because he homesteaded a piece of land on which he later planted crops. He then sold the crops for money and for the money he then purchased the Ipod. Therefore the Ipod is owned by John".

More likely would be that if I see you with your Ipod, I determine that it is your Ipod because if I try to take it away from you, you might punch me in the face. I value you owning that Ipod more than I value a punch in the face.

Let's say that we were close friends, then I might determine that it is your Ipod because I know that you love that Ipod. I would then value your happiness more than the possible guilt I would be experiencing if I would steal it from you.

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LiberTed:
If I see you with your Ipod I do not sit and think: "Oh it is John's ipod because he homesteaded a piece of land on which he later planted crops. He then sold the crops for money and for the money he then purchased the Ipod. Therefore the Ipod is owned by John".

No.  You more than likely figure "he probably bought that from someone/some store".  (There's more ways to come to own property than homesteading. )

I could come to own more property than anyone else on Earth and never have homesteaded a damn thing.

 

More likely would be that if I see you with your Ipod, I determine that it is your Ipod because if I try to take it away from you, you might punch me in the face.  I value you owning that Ipod more than I value a punch in the face.

Oh I see.  So as long as you're afraid of me hurting you if you intervene with me, I have a right to whatever I'm doing/possessing.  Got it.

 

Let's say that we were close friends, then I might determine that it is your Ipod because I know that you love that Ipod. I would then value your happiness more than the possible guilt I would be experiencing if I would steal it from you.

I fail to see why this is relevant.  Let's say we're not close friends.  Let's say I've never seen you before in my life.  Now what?  Again, I don't see the novelty in any of this.

 

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LiberTed replied on Wed, Mar 21 2012 3:11 PM

I am simply putting forth the idea that ownership and recognizing ownership is based purely on self interest and not on some natural or objective right.

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LiberTed replied on Wed, Mar 21 2012 4:23 PM

I agree, that is why I compare property  to prices instead.

Proponents of "The labour theory of property" claim that there are an objective way of determining ownership, in the same way as proponents of "The labour theory of value" try to claim that there are an objective way of determining prices. However, the ltv is not true and we determine price according to our subjective values and I argue that we do the same with property.

 

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Wheylous replied on Wed, Mar 21 2012 5:31 PM

I am simply putting forth the idea that ownership and recognizing ownership is based purely on self interest and not on some natural or objective right.

I used to believe in objective property rights (without any reason, that is), but then I realized that they're not objective in the sense that you can say that they are "right" in the void.

Now I'm trying to come up with a way to show that rights are objective in the sense that given purpose A, rights are the way to go. And if A = having as "nice" a society as possible, then property rights are the proper approach.

I hope to do this sometime soon.

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Proponents of "The labour theory of property" claim that there are an objective way of determining ownership, in the same way as proponents of "The labour theory of value" try to claim that there are an objective way of determining prices.   However, the ltv is not true and we determine price according to our subjective values and I argue that we do the same with property.

Saying that we determine price according to our subjective values is extremely misleading.  The reality is, prices are determined by the subjective values of only 2 marginal pairs: the last buyer and first excluded seller at the top, and the last seller and first excluded buyer at the bottom.  Its only the valuations of those buyers and sellers who define prices, not everyone and anyone.

Going back to property and ownership then, it becomes clear that simply comparing it to prices won't do us any good, because prices are more complicated than the catchphrase of subjectivism.  More importantly, our ability to know prices (as opposed to how prices come about) is objective - it is not a private matter.  In other words, even though prices would not exist at all in the absence of human valuation, so long as they do exist, that information is out in the world and NOT subjective.  The same goes for ownership:  so long as someone is an owner, that information is verifiable by anyone, its not a subjective matter.

I would try dropping the terms objective and subjective, and see what's left.  It might clear up a lot of confusion. 

they said we would have an unfair fun advantage

"enough about human rights. what about whale rights?" -moondog
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"Private property lives by grace of the law. Only in the law has it its warrant—for possession is not yet property, it becomes “mine” only by assent of the law; it is not a fact, not un fait as Proudhon thinks, but a fiction, a thought. This is legal property, legitimate property, guarantied property. It is mine not through me but through the—law. [...]

What then is my property? Nothing but what is in my power! To what property am I entitled? To every property to which I—empower myself. I give myself the right of property in taking property to myself, or giving myself the proprietor’s power, full power, empowerment.

Everything over which I have might that cannot be torn from me remains my property; well, then let might decide about property, and I will expect everything from my might! Alien might, might that I leave to another, makes me an owned slave: then let my own might make me an owner. Let me then withdraw the might that I have conceded to others out of ignorance regarding the strength of my own might! Let me say to myself, what my might reaches to is my property; and let me claim as property everything that I feel myself strong enough to attain, and let me extend my actual property as far as I entitle, i.e.—empower, myself to take."

~ Max Stirner

"The limits of my language mean the limits of my world." ~ Ludwig Wittgenstein
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z1235 replied on Wed, Mar 21 2012 7:36 PM

Max Stirner via Fool on the Hill:

"Let me say to myself, what my might reaches to is my property; and let me claim as property everything that I feel myself strong enough to attain, and let me extend my actual property as far as I entitle, i.e.—empower, myself to take."

~ Max Stirner

Sure, until someone drags you back to the woodshed and shoots you like the beast that you are. Property is what remains after evolution has hindered the procreation of the proponents of all other alternatives. The reason why you don't just take the iPod lies in your genes given to you by your ancestors who wisely decided to not simply take any donkey to which they gave themselves title. 

 

 

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LiberTed replied on Thu, Mar 22 2012 6:22 AM

I agree and i propose that the same is true regarding property.

Prices can be viewed objectively, but they are composed of many people's different valuing.

In a community, ownership, recognition of ownership and "property rights" would emerge as a sort of social norm. Through spontaneous order if you will. These could then also be viewed objectively, such as prices.

I argue that this happens because people tend to want to avoid conflicts, out of self interest.

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LiberTed:

I agree and i propose that the same is true regarding property.

Prices can be viewed objectively, but they are composed of many people's different valuing.

In a community, ownership, recognition of ownership and "property rights" would emerge as a sort of social norm. Through spontaneous order if you will. These could then also be viewed objectively, such as prices.

I argue that this happens because people tend to want to avoid conflicts, out of self interest.

For the third time, this is nothing new.  I'm still waiting for the point to any of this.

 

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LiberTed replied on Thu, Mar 22 2012 7:28 AM

Well maybe it isn't and maybe there is no point.

Perhaps it is the name thing that threw me off. However, by thinking about this I have certainly gained a lot more insight and understanding on social valuing and maybe that is the point.

EDIT. Well I guess the original point is that even though Austrians claim to have a consistent philosophy, the "Labour theory of property" is not consistent with "The subjective theory of value".

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LiberTed:
EDIT. Well I guess the original point is that even though Austrians claim to have a consistent philosophy, the "Labour theory of property" is not consistent with "The subjective theory of value".

Perhaps that's why Austrians don't exactly subscribe to an all out Lockean "Labour theory of property"

 

Contra the “Labor Theory of Property”

Hume on Intellectual Property and the Problematic “Labor” Metaphor

Producer, Entrepreneur, and the Right to Property

John Locke and the Labor Theory of Value [PDF]

 

...Or perhaps it's not necessarily inconsistent at all...?

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LiberTed replied on Thu, Mar 22 2012 9:21 AM

Those were great articles in pointing out the problems with the ltp!

What do you mean by "...Or perhaps it's not necessarily inconsistent at all...?" ?

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The labor theory of property operates in the moral realm, and the subjective theory of property operates in the empirical realm. To say that a person owns that with which he's mixed his labor is to make a moral claim: namely, that he should be recognized as the owner of that property, whether in fact he is so recognized is another question. Whereas, to say that a person does own whatever property others around him recognize as being his property is simply to describe empirical reality - whether a person is the legitimate owner (per LTP) or not, he who is recognized as the owner is the effective owner.

The LTP informs the STP, in that it tells the members of society on what basis they should recognize someone as the owner of property.

apiarius delendus est, ursus esuriens continendus est
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Clayton replied on Fri, Mar 23 2012 5:29 PM

My general views on law are expressed here.

The basic idea is that law emerges from trial-and-error, not through theorization. Hence, theoretical considerations are less important than what works. But deciding what works, too, is not a theoretical matter. It cannot be solved by armchair thinking. Not legislators, not judges, not law professors, not economists (not even Austrian ones), not religious leaders, no one can cogitate law.

The only way to figure out the what the law is for people to try different solutions to their disputes until they find the ones that tend to work (keep the peace). This is as true of property law as any other kind of law.

Clayton -

http://voluntaryistreader.wordpress.com
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You do good to quote Stirner, but Human Action (the primitive force / atomic fact) is the consequence of such an ontology.  As Mises points out, there is no "mystic comuinon" - all action / perspective is within the scope and invention of a creative-destructive unique entity.

Stirner gives birth to and anchors Weber, Menger, and Mises.

"As in a kaleidoscope, the constellation of forces operating in the system as a whole is ever changing." - Ludwig Lachmann

"When A Man Dies A World Goes Out of Existence"  - GLS Shackle

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"All ownership derives from occupation and violence. When we consider the natural components of goods, apart from the labour components they contain, and when we follow the legal title back, we must necessarily arrive at a point where this title originated in the appropriation of goods accessible to all. Before that we may encounter a forcible expropriation from a predecessor whose ownership we can in its turn trace to earlier appropriation or robbery. That all rights derive from violence, all ownership from appropriation or robbery, we may freely admit to those who oppose ownership on considerations of natural law."
~ Ludwig von Mises, Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis

"Private property is a human device. It is not sacred. It came into existence in early ages of history, when people with their own power and by their own authority appropriated to themselves what had previously not been anybody's property. Again and again proprietors were robbed of their property by expropriation. The history of private property can be traced back to a point at which it originated out of acts which were certainly not legal. Virtually every owner is the direct or indirect legal successor of people who acquired ownership either by arbitrary appropriation of ownerless things or by violent spoilation of their predecessor."
~ Ludwig von Mises, Human Action

"The limits of my language mean the limits of my world." ~ Ludwig Wittgenstein
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