Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Private Property a Socially Constructed Illusion

Which is where the Libertarian crowd get it wrong, wrong, wrong. What is property? Well, there are the physical things that we own, for one....but I think a better question to ask is "what makes it your property?". Because things are just things. A car is just a car, a machined collection of metal, glass, and plastic. Nothing in the car itself says "This is x's car". The same car can be possessed by different people, different owners, and it's still the same car. Nothing physical has changed. The only thing that's changed is the nebulous ideas of social rights and privileges that are associated with this particular car. Why is it your car? Because you paid for it, and society recognizes that if you pay for it you possess it. Why should buying something entitle you to a right to it? Because someone else had possession of the object and gave you their rights to it in exchange for money. Why is money valuable? Because it's a standardized unit of exchange for various goods. So money stands for goods? But who decides what people get what money for what goods, and who decides what general value goods are priced by? A combination of societal norms and economic necessity. But, nevertheless, why do some people own so much stuff and others own so little? Because society has recognized that those who own a lot have a right to it and has recognized that those who own little don't have rights to it. But this is a social convention. Another society, based on other principles, could recognize that the social contribution of those who have the rights to much property doesn't entitle them to these rights, and could decide that the work of those who have few rights actually entitles them to much more.

**on edit: the bottom line is that things just exist, but what makes them property is a nexus and agglomeration of property rights that exist in a complex system involving production, exchange, and work. However, no matter the economic factors, and Marx in particular has run the subject of the connection of money, work, property, and production, into the ground with his interesting though exhaustive discussions on the concept of 'value', no matter the economic factors, the privileges of property rights are more 'ideas' than static 'things', something codified by law as opposed to something that's been existent since the beginning of time and will be in place till the end of time. Although certain ideas of property have been fairly common throughout history, much of our approach to the idea of property rights is socially and historically constructed, and can very likely be broadly changed in the future, although stuff like "Is it right to let you borrow my saw in exchange for me letting you borrow my lawnmower?" will probably continue to be issues.

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