Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

Of Common, Public, and Private Property and the Rationale for Total Privatization | Mises Wire

Posted by M. C. on August 10, 2021

I find it tough reading too. Your elected “leaders” won’t bother. It goes against all they stand for.

Hans-Hermann Hoppe

I have three goals. First, I want to clarify the nature and function of private property. Second, I want to clarify the distinction between “common” goods and property and “public” goods and property, and explain the construction error inherent in the institution of public goods and property. Third, I want to explain the rationale and principle of privatization.

I. Theoretical Preliminaries

I will begin with some abstract but fundamental theoretical considerations concerning the sources of conflicts and the purpose of social norms. If there were no interpersonal conflicts, there would be no need for norms. It is the purpose of norms to help avoid otherwise unavoidable conflicts. A norm that generates conflict, rather than helps avoid it, is contrary to the purpose of norms, i.e., it is a dysfunctional norm or a perversion.

It is sometimes thought that conflicts result from the mere fact of different people having different interests or ideas. But this is false, or at least very incomplete. From the diversity of individual interests and ideas alone it does not follow that conflicts must arise. I want it to rain, and my neighbor wants the sun to shine. Our interests are contrary. However, because neither I, nor my neighbor controls the sun or the clouds, our conflicting interests have no practical consequences. There is nothing that we can do about the weather. Likewise, I may believe that A causes B, and you believe that B is caused by C; or I believe in and pray to God, and you don’t. But if this is all the difference there is between us nothing of any practical consequence follows. Different interests and beliefs can lead to conflict only when they are put into action—when our interests and ideas are attached to or implemented in physically controlled objects, i.e., in economic goods or means of action.

Yet even if our interests and ideas are attached to and implemented in economic goods, no conflict results so long as our interests and ideas are concerned exclusively with different—physically separate—goods. Conflict only results if our different interests and beliefs are attached to and invested in one and the same good. In the Schlaraffenland,1

 with a superabundance of goods, no conflict can arise (except for conflicts regarding the use of our physical bodies that embody our very own interests and ideas). There is enough around of everything to satisfy everyone’s desires. In order for different interests and ideas to result in conflict, goods must be scarce. Only scarcity makes it possible that different interests and ideas can be attached to and invested in one and the same stock of goods. Conflicts, then, are physical clashes regarding the control of one and the same given stock of goods. People clash because they want to use the same goods in different, incompatible ways.

Even under conditions of scarcity, when conflicts are possible, however, they are not necessary or unavoidable. All conflicts regarding the use of any good can be avoided if only every good is privately owned, i.e., exclusively controlled by some specified individual(s) and it is always clear which thing is owned, and by whom, and which is not. The interests and ideas of different individuals may then be as different as can be, and yet no conflict arises so long as their interests and ideas are concerned always and exclusively with their own, separate property.

What is needed to avoid all conflict, then, is only a norm regarding the privatization of scarce things (goods). More specifically, in order to avoid all conflict from the very beginning of mankind on, the required norm must concern the original privatization of goods (the first transformation of nature-given “things” into “economic goods” and private property). Further, the original privatization of goods cannot occur by verbal declaration, i.e., by the mere utterance of words, because this could work and not lead to permanent and irresolvable conflict only if, contrary to our initial assumption of different interests and ideas, a prestabilized harmony of the interests and ideas of all people existed. (Yet in that case no norms were needed in the first place!)

Rather, to avoid all otherwise unavoidable conflict, the original privatization of goods must occur through actions: through acts of original appropriation of what were previously “things.” Only through actions, taking place in time and space, can an objective—inter-subjectively ascertainable—link be established between a particular person and a particular good. And only the first appropriator of a previously un-appropriated thing can acquire this thing without conflict. For, by definition, as the first appropriator he cannot have run into any conflict with anyone in appropriating the good in question, as everyone else appeared on the scene only later. All property must go back, then, directly or indirectly, through a chain of mutually beneficial and hence likewise conflict-free property-title transfers, to original appropriators and acts of original appropriation.

As a matter of fact, this answer is apodictically, i.e., non-hypothetically, true. In the absence of a prestabilized harmony of all individual interests, only private property can help avoid otherwise—under conditions of scarcity—unavoidable conflict. And only the principle of property acquisition by means of original appropriation or mutually beneficial transfer from an earlier to a later proprietor makes it possible that conflict can be avoided throughout—from the very beginning of mankind until the end. No other solution exists. Every other ruling is contrary to the nature of man as a rational actor.

In conclusion, even under conditions of all-around scarcity it is possible that people with divergent interests and ideas can peacefully—without conflict—coexist, provided they recognize the institution of private (i.e., exclusive) property and its ultimate foundation in and through acts of original appropriation.

II. Private Property, Common Goods and Public Property

See the rest here


Contact Hans-Hermann Hoppe

Hans-Hermann Hoppe is an Austrian school economist and libertarian/anarcho-capitalist philosopher. He is the founder and president of The Property and Freedom Society.

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One Response to “Of Common, Public, and Private Property and the Rationale for Total Privatization | Mises Wire”

  1. SeaShell said


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