PropertyHistoryRant (ThoughtStorms)

Another one that was (almost) a comment on Quora :

> This question smells like it's coming from a right-libertarian angle, so I'm making my usual response. Because every time a right-libertarian starts talking about property it seems their intuitions are driven by idea that property is a bracelet or a small shack in the woods that you defend by standing in front of it with a shotgun.

> But we live in Capitalism. And the defining feature of Capitalism is "capital". And the vehicle for owning that capital is the corporation. So 99% of the property today is most likely to be in terms of part-ownership of corporations, which in turn own land, mineral rights, factories etc. And these days "intellectual property", which is why the most valuable corporations today are those that have huge patent portfolios.

> Now all these kinds of property (land ownership, mining rights, shares in limited liability corporations, patents, trademarks ets.) are explicitly created by modern, nation-state governments choosing to recognise them. (Look at the history of where they all came from.) Not one of these kinds of property came out of some spontaneous communitarian recognition that we should leave other's hard earned stuff alone.

> In the old world, land-ownership started with the king handing out estates to the aristocracy and was extended by dozens of enclosures of previously common land, signed off by government. In the new world the government paid soldiers to drive the indigenous populations off land they'd previously inhabited and used so that European descendent farmers could "homestead" this "wilderness". Mineral rights came with land ownership except in certain places which hadn't been enclosed yet, where early prospectors relied on registration with the government to protect their discoveries from "claim jumpers".

> We're still fighting the battle over intellectual property and whether ideas and thoughts can be enclosed and turned into private property. But its not going well, to be honest.

> Governments regulate and set the rules for ownership of shares in corporations. Sure corporations are so rich that they often push politicians around, but ultimately the whole system rests on government's recognition of contract law. And an ultimate recourse to the courts in case of dispute.

> So, all the really important wealth comes by nation-state government decree. And government will is ultimately respected because it's backed up by a standing army, police, court, prison system : in other words, a pretty hefty threat to use violence against those who go against it.

> Now, of course, psychologically people "internalise" the constraints put on them from outside. It's too cognitively expensive to calculate every time, whether this time you can get away with breaking the law. And so, yes, these laws become conventions, and eventually people respect them more or less automatically. (In fact it's the nature of all social animals to cache the results of power-struggles internally so that they don't keep fighting the same (losing) battles.)

> And there are other constraints that then congeal within the system. I'm not going to invest in a company which is explicitly prospecting land it doesn't own because I know that in the long run, it won't work out. It's not that the police will come around and personally beat me. But the rightful land-owners will probably sue at some time and my company may end up with a fine and potential confiscation of their excavations.

> The irony here is that right-libertarians are the first to sneer at communists and left-libertarian anarchist who explicitly recognise that they need people to adapt to their prefered systems (they just believe it's possible).

> But the right-libertarian simultaneously believes two contradictory things. That human nature is immutably selfish and greedy, AND that property rights can be respected out of voluntary recognition of self-interest (despite the empirical evidence of hundreds of thousands of people incarcerated each year under threat of violence for self-interestedly violating property rights.)