Re: The Tyranny of Property

In Labadie Warren’s “The Tyranny of Property,” I learned that all non-personal property “should be considered unowned.” Immediately, Warren takes a logical leap by making a moral claim that people “should” act a certain way (i.e., not enforce non-personal property rights). Without justifying logically, Warren transitioned from stating what is the case to asserting what should be the case, yet categorically, descriptive statements of fact are different from prescriptive statements about how things ought to be.

The reason I mention it is because it is arbitrary to claim that personal property is the only valid form of property. It is arbitrary because there is no reason in reality for making such a distinction between the validity of personal and non-personal property. I suppose the writer might counter that non-personal property permits “robbery, extortion, and slavery,” as is claimed. Even if true, that would only be begging the question. While I of course agree, Warren does not explain why “robbery, extortion, and slavery” are wrong. I believe that if Warren were to examine why “robbery, extortion, and slavery” are wrong, it would be because each individual has an inalienable right to his or her life. In summation, the only way of exercising that right is in material reality. Since human beings are capable of living for such long periods of time, over 100 years in some cases, it is necessary to be able to plan ahead for that eventuality. The occupancy-and-use theory to which Warren prescribes purposefully imposes on intentions to plan for the achievement of long-term values, because accumulating property for later use is not recognized. That, among other reasons, is why the occupancy-and-use theory is irredeemable. (My criticism would not necessarily justify a belief in the Lockean theory either. I will be publishing an alternative justification for individual rights on March 14.)

But say hypothetically that I am wrong and personal property is the only valid form of property. Contrary to what Warren said, personal property could allow for intellectual property of “anything an individual actively uses and is in direct possession of a good amount of time” so long as the person willfully kept the idea to him- or herself. I presume that Warren would agree that if personal property were taken without permission, the one who took possession without permission from the previous possessor would have no right to the property. If Warren believed that to be the case and if a person unwillingly communicated or transferred a unique idea to another person, the receiver might have to pay some restitution for having remembered the idea. It is absurd.

Another logical leap is to claim it would be necessary to possess something “a good amount of time” before becoming the owner. Unless there is some other floating criterion I am not aware of, someone who had not possessed an object “a good amount of time” and is thus not the owner would have no greater moral claim to use force to prevent it from being taken or destroyed by another person. Additionally, no objective (empirical) standard exists, only personal arbitrary whim, to determine when “a good amount of time” has passed.

Warren added that opposition to non-personal property would entail opposition to rent, interest and profit. I do not see how that could be. It might entail opposition to the coercive enforcement of rent and interest, but I suppose people could still contract on the basis of non-coercive reputation management. Most poor people today do not have access to courts or to police enforcement of their agreements, but their agreements are formed all the time, particularly in the black and gray markets. They typically are limited to the exchange of personal property in part because of poverty-creating government policies have prevented them from acquiring non-personal property. I also do not understand how the exclusion of non-personal property would lead to an opposition to profit, unless trade itself were prohibited too. When people exchange, each person does so under the expectation that he or she will benefit. That is a form of entrepreneurial profit and creates wealth. The only seeming justification for an opposition to profit would be if one person’s profit necessarily results in someone else’s loss, a centuries-old fallacy.

All in all, Warren offered no substantive arguments against non-personal property and inadvertently makes a case for intellectual property and the theft of personal property.