Andres Aullet

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Private Property: Should everything in the world be owned?

Private ownership is a right that is taken for granted by many in western countries.

Originally the concept was primarily used to deal with land ownership (at least that was the case in the USA during the days of the Revolution), but nowadays it has been extended to ideas, meta-data about ideas, and derivatives of ideas. In some extreme cases we see people considering future profits as a property that must be protected in the same way as any other private property

Needless to say, private ownership as it relates to material goods (let's leave intellectual property to the side for a moment) is a "right" that is bound to find limits because 1) people whose life depend on certain private property denied to them will attempt to acquire it and 2) even if nobody wants to acquire our private property, the world has physically limits and that sets a restriction to what can be owned.

I would argue that there are still a lot of material resources that are not owned by anybody. The air. The sea. Entire ecosystems. Think about technology that could enable us to extract minerals from the moon, or from the bottom of the sea, or gather energy from deep underground. Should we declare that everything that is not currently private property should be claimed by someone? And if so, should we take a civilized approach to this transition or should we use the old (maybe still current) rule of "the strongest gets the lion's share"?

What purpose does private property serve in a society?

Are there instances where there is direct conflict between the individual right to private property and the common good? How should that conflict be handled as a society, as a civilization?

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      Jan 7 2012: I think that you are right I had not read the thread and yet I led of whit a reference to a book. Their is nothing wrong with Organizations or rules governing behavior, and I say that as a devoted Anarchist. Organizations that we communally empower and accept which do the tasks we currently rely on governments to do are along way off and so as a realist I am focused not on my dreams of stateless societies but instead on means of making the world more just. Much of the injustice seems to come from the concentration of power in the hands of a minority of the population of the world, yet if everyone had equal wealth or power it would quickly become again concentrated. The concentration of power seems inevitable as if it is some sociobiology imperative. How then to we transform power into something that is concentrated into the hands of a responsible and just body of people ? The current methods force and wealth are not showing any real sign of success. I ask you how can we restructure the things that define power in our culture?
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    Jan 7 2012: II recently read in Kropotin, that there were cultures that defined private property as anything that could be destroyed by fire. I think that might be a decent rule of thumb, no ownership of land say... lifetime custotinship with lease fees going to fund clean up and restoration efforts worldwide,and first option to lease at favorable terms being inheritable. So I guess my answer to you core question is not not everything should be owned.
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    Jan 6 2012: I live in the Marshall Islands, on thoroughly Christianized Majuro atoll. Throughout the RMI there is a real problem of theft, and if one plants papaya trees nearly all the fruit will be stolen. Normally, the gardener gives up in frustration. (I hand pollinated my papaya flowers each day, its was a bit of work). Because of land inheritance, and the inability to buy land, people stay put, and typically grandparents raise their grandchildren, the parents often drink too much or are too irresponsible to take care of their own kids. The society, over-populated by the largess of the US welfare system (as a redress to the nuclear testing) is in crisis, with the highest rates of alcoholism, suicide and teenage pregnancy in the Pacific. Yet because land is not sold, people have not been thrown off their "weto" (so it could be worse!) except where the local chief has allowed a Chinese business to be built in exchange for money. Thus anti Chinese racism prevails (my wife, a published poet, is Chinese but a native born Arizonan, and receives more than her share of this hatred) Money is the cause of Majuro's downfall, and needs its own conversation. Private property can lead to good stewardship and development (i.e, a tall fence will encourage papaya cultivation), but money often causes liquidation of nature and other evils.
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    Jan 4 2012: We own 1 acre in New Mexico in the high desert. We do not have a fence. When feral cats and dogs come around we chase them off, when we see them. We have to cut the prairie grass every 2-4 years to prevent fire which is a real threat. because we have to cut the weeds and four-wing salt brush, the natural plant nurseries here, we seed native grasses with mulch. And we plant native trees. We are trying to be good stewards of this land and to reduce our impact here as much as possible but there is no accounting for the network of roads needed to sustain a community which also pose a hazard to wildlife as well as a boundary many small creatures will not cross (think geko escaping the parking lot).

    I don't know what the answer is, even as a cooperative a neighborhood still needs roads, electricity, water.
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      Jan 4 2012: I was surprised to learn that too, Joy, the impact of roads on biodiversity and ecosystems. Your way of life sounds wonderful. Respect to you.
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    Dec 18 2011: Andres - it seems we’ve deviated from your original topic quite a bit (a worthwhile diversion, I think), but it might also be good to address your original theme a bit more.

    A while back I read/heard about a program to deal with poverty. Not sure where, but perhaps in the favelas of Rio. There people lived on land which was officially owned by no one. The plan was to give title of the property to the inhabitants in in the hope that it would improve their situation. The belief was that with ownership they would invest in improvements. Even if they then decided to sell, the the overall effect should be to improve both the individuals’ lives and the community environment.

    So, this aspect of private property (that I think you alluded to in your introduction) is an important issue. That is, that the owner of property is more like to care for it than if it were possessed in common. From this point of view, how much of the earth’s surface should be owned in common and how much should be private property? How do we determine the distribution?
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      Dec 19 2011: Great observation Tim, and thanks for re-focusing our discussion :-)

      You may be right, there is a deeper sense of care when there is some sort of ownership involved. I would point out, for example, that when a family owns a house, every family member cares about the house more than they would if it was a rental place or a place shared with all the community. I don't think the person whose name is on the title cares more just because of this fact.

      So in a sense it may not individual ownership what creates this deeper sense of care, but maybe ownership in common within a manageable size group.

      Our behaviors towards other humans evolved back in the days when the largest groups were probably a few hundred in size. From my own experience and that of many around me, I know that we can build deep bonds and keep track of relevant history together with, at the most, a few hundred people. It is certainly impossible to develop such deep bond with hundreds of thousands, let alone millions.

      One side discussion to this is to analyze the difference between the bonds that link us to the reduced (few hundred) group, and the bonds that link us to millions around us (nationalism, etc). But let's leave that for another moment.

      My contention is that when the groups are not so big, a sense of care for the shared land can be maintained because it is directly linked to a sense of care for the community.

      So how do you implement it? Great question. I would do it as any scientist would. If today land ownership is such that 95% of land is owned by individuals or families and 5% owned in common by groups say 200-300 large, I would try to find a legal framework in order to change this to 85% - 15%. Then I would let some time pass and I would analyze the results in the longer run.

      Not easy, and not quick for sure, but that would be the only way to know for sure if this new form of ownership produces the expected results.

      Ah, the expected results are the topic for yet another debate.
  • Dec 18 2011: Great thread, Andres!

    I have enjoyed reading this conversation a lot.

    The Lockean idea of private property has been with us for so long, but it is a distinctly bourgeois philosophy. Private property benefits some people (the bourgeoisie and property owners), but it demonstrably harms others (lower classes and non-human life forms). If rights are meant to be based on universality and equality (as human rights and freedom of speech are), then private property is misnamed as a right. Private property serves the interests of the few at the expense of the rest. It is not a right at all.

    The main problem with private property is landownership. Landownership deprives the ability of others - by 'others' I mean other humans and other non-human organisms - to make a living. Landownership is one of the major sources of injustice in the world. It always has been.

    Landownership is a European invention. It is a myth and a fiction. Eurocentric minds - Locke is the biggest culprit - foisted this idea upon the entire world as a way to justify aggressively stealing land from indigenous people. And it continues to permeate our Western Cultural milieu. A piece of paper that says "I have this document that says I own this piece of land because I paid for it" does not make it a reality, it does not make it true. The Catholic Church once upon a time sold indulgences to its flock, pieces of paper that said "I have this document that says my sins are forgiven because I paid for it". Both cases are fictitious stories spun by power brokers to exert control over people.

    Indigenous cultures have had it right all along. Ecocentric minds do not lay claim to the world because they know that ownership is a fiction.
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      Dec 18 2011: Hello Nathan, thanks for your comments.

      I completely agree with you that the native americans had a much better system of ownership, not only taking into account other individuals but also promoting a high respect for the earth, animals and plants in general.

      From what I have read, there were discussions regarding land ownership as far back as Plato and Aristotle.

      Certainly europeans during the 15th and 16th century expanded their footprint enormously by forcefully taking ownership of land and resources from others. And as you point out, John Locke's ideas have been heavily used to (morally?) justify the appropriation of land.

      Manifest Destiny was also a very strong concept that provided "moral justification" for those who were seeking to appropriate more land back in the 19th century.

      What I see over and over is that people do realize there is something wrong in taking exclusive control of some resources that others may need to ensure their survival. So instead of seeking for a better way to distribute and use these resources, what people end up doing is coming up with moral justifications that take away the guilt or the awkward feeling that we are doing something wrong to others.

      Many justifications have been used throughout the centuries: progress, civilization, saving people's souls, spreading democracy. In the end it doesn't take a great effort to figure out who had control of resources before and after

      The purpose of this debate is to try to figure out if there is some sort of middle ground solution. Abolition of property is not practical, and concentration of all ownership in the hands of a single individual cannot happen without first causing a revolution.

      Where can we draw the line? And if the line turns out to require some redistribution because the existing distribution of resources is detrimental to a large group of people, how could it be implemented?

      cheers
      • Dec 18 2011: Hi Andres,

        My ideas about this tend to be anarcho-primitivist in nature.

        Finding a solution, to me, means looking at the root cause of the problem. Private property - in terms of land and resources, not artifacts - is a distinctly "civilised" idea. The "civilised" mind invented it, and the "civilised" mind continues to believe in its authority. But, as I remarked previously - and as you obviously agree - it is an idea based on a fiction, used as a weapon to steal and plunder, responsible for terrible injustices. For these reasons, Private Property is intolerable.

        But then how is it to be gotten rid of? You are right, it could never be abolished through laws, probably because "civilised" minds would never accept such a proposal. So one approach would be to decivilise civilised minds in a wholeheartedly holistic manner, one person at a time. But 10,000 years of mythical inculturation is difficult for any "civilised" person to let go of! Change is unlikely to come in this way. It would take eons!

        The only other way, perhaps, is if "civilised" people literally lose their civilisation (as they know it) so they no longer have their treasured myths to hold onto anymore. With the looming financial meltdown, this could be a real possibility.

        So, I see civilisation as the root of all our ills - ills that include private property and anthropocentrism, among many others. If the root dies, the ills attached to it wither and die too. So if we say goodbye to civilisation, then the question becomes, what should replace it? I believe the answer is uncivilisation, uncivilisation in many diverse forms.

        Redistribution of resources etc. would be antithetical to an uncivilisation. The un-civilised in an uncivilisation would have to (and would want to) live with whatever their local land base provided, like their animal relatives do.

        So I guess you could say that Private Property is a symptom of the disease called civilisation. U can treat the symptom but the disease will linger.
  • Dec 15 2011: The principle concept of capitalism is that you don't need to own the capital to leverage it...in fact it is better to leverage other peoples capital. Why would any one want to own the ocean or the air when you can extract all of the profit you want from fishing or dumping without needing to own it.
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    Dec 11 2011: I like this question, thanks Andres. Can we pinpoint a date when the first humans first came up with the idea of commodity? I.e. that something should be controlled, protected and hoarded in order to profit by it to a fuller extent? Lets say around 6000 BC just for arguments sake. From then onwards and especially since the last 200 years we have expanded the idea fully until today, where everything can be a commodity. Almost everything that exists can be owned and exploited in today's world, from the proportion of carbon/nitrous oxide in our atmosphere to our thoughts, ideas and conversations. If someone wishes to begin trading a thing for profit, something that heretofore was not owned, will soon become 'owned'.

    One could argue the most destructive word in any language, is the word 'mine'.
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      Dec 11 2011: Oops, i deleted my post ... let me try to repeat it and i hope i remember all of it!

      Hi Joanne, I am glad you like this question. It is good to have your comments here.

      Yes the process is not new but certainly it has accelerated in the last couple of centuries. Some attribute this to the way economics is viewed and taught after Adam Smith published his "wealth of nations"

      Have you ever read Duncan K. Foley? He has a book called Adam's Fallacy that i think you would enjoy

      Your last comment made me smile. In a TED conversation called "What are the Top 5 things you can teach/share with a 6 year old?" I shared some things that I have tried to teach my kids as they grow up, and not strangely, one of them is: "minimize the use of the words MY and MINE"

      :-)
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        Dec 11 2011: The thought of you raising your child with such a concept warms my heart. Adam Smith. quite a brilliant man, I wonder how he would view what has grown out of his ideas. I think, he would be horrified, just as I think Marx would with what has been created in the name of communism.

        The reading list I have acquired since joining TED is growing at an alarming rate, but I will try to get a hold of that one. Would it interest you to give me a brief synopsis?

        On the concept of 'mine', our best friends are Tongan, Tonga is a tiny Pacific Island nation. Their world view is totally different to our 'Palangi' one. Community and family are everything for them, they share their resources and the lines between ownership are often blurred which can be confusing for us 'Palangi' (or whites). Ego, a sense of 'I' is less important, instead the success of one, means the success of all. Our Tongan friend together with my anarchist German partner have created a communal garden project and it has enriched everyone who is connected with it. I think it is a healthier way to live.
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          Dec 14 2011: you had me at anarchist (in regards to your partner) .

          If you do not mind Joanne, can you tell me a little bit more about the communal garden project?
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        Dec 14 2011: Orlando, if you can ever spend time on a Pacific Island, preferably one which has not been christianised you will probably meet people who live by values you and I discuss all the time. The lines between private ownership are blurred, social relationships are of paramount importance. Social relationships are cherished above all else. Instead of being shut away and treated with indifference, the elderly are almost worshipped. Children and babies are highly prized by the entire community and you often see great big men cooing over and cuddling babies.If you are a woman and childless in one of these communities, someone will usually decide to have a baby in order to give it to you, because being childless is deemed a fate worse than death on many Pacific islands. This idea might be viewed with horror by us who think in ownership terms when it comes to children but in these communities children are raised much more collectively and it is a very healthy system.

        It is not perfect Utopia in these communities, strict hierarchial structures also exist, and christianity has introduced many other social ills but the a social system that is more natural for humans, in my opinion, exists.

        Living next to our Tongan neighbours has been an enriching experience as we have found ourselves accepted into a bigger extended family network. For our Tongan family, lines between private ownership are are more blurred so things are shared as people need them, not according to who owns them. Thus we ended up cultivating my neighbour's sunny back yard, and have put a gate between the two properties.

        As I was saying to Andres in another post, although we have invited other neighbours to participate, they are a bit too shy, as ownership is a big taboo for most of us kiwis. However everyone loves it and project has brought our neighbourhood together in many other ways.
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      Dec 11 2011: His book does a great job at reviewing economic theory in general in an easily digestible format, but the important main premise is that economics at its core is a philosophical discourse, not a science.

      Adam Smith was a moral philosopher before he turned his interest to economics. Knowing that from a moral point of view (within a society), a selfish attitude is usually cause of conflict and it is viewed as an undesired trait; Smith resolved the moral issue by proposing that the economic sphere works "different" from any other human social sphere of interaction. In specific, the way in which it differs (so the argument goes) is that within the realm of economics, a selfish attitude is a virtue, because it "generates" unexpected benefits for the rest of the society (the invisible hand in action!)

      Needless to say, even though economical growth can produce tangible benefits to society, there is no scientific proof that these benefits are generated by the selfish attitude. It is usually explained by philosophizing and speculating on the cause-effect links. And many of the hidden costs of those benefits are ignored.

      Nevertheless, Adam Smith's argument gave people a great moral justification to freely pursue selfish interests: If there is the promise that somewhere down the road society will benefit from it, my guilt and moral conflict about being selfish easily disappears.
      =====
      I would love to learn more about this communal garden project

      cheers!
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        Dec 11 2011: Brilliant! Thanks Andres, he backs up what seemed obvious to me for a long time. I will try to find the book on Amazon. It always seemed obvious to me that the entire 'invisible hand' thing is a kind of self fulfilling prophecy and totally fallacious. A theory designed to grant carte blanche to the unscrupulous. I was not confident about my ideas because I do not know enough about economics, so that reference will be very helpful, thank you again.

        Our communal garden project; it probably sounds a bit more grandiose than it actually is. We put a gate between our two properties and we cultivate our neighbours back yard, which is a better sun trap than our back yard. Our yard has a lot of trees, some are fruit trees but the open space is not enough to grow much vege. So toghether we turned our neighbour's back yard into a vege patch, building raised beds and trellis for legumes. We share the work and the produce on a very casual unregulated basis. We have invited other neighbours to join the effort, but although they love the idea they only participate in a very tentative way as this crossing of the ownership taboo is outside normal kiwi culture.

        Although other neighbours do not actually join the project directly, the presence of the communal garden, and the flow of veges between neighbours, has grown community relations in a myriad of other ways. I notice more trust between people, there is more recipricocity between our group of about seven households, but also people in our wider sphere along our street. We love it and when I get more time, I plan to add a few chooks, for the eggs and for the free fertiliser!
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      Dec 12 2011: So Joanne - is there an alternative to a system of private property which will keep as many people fed, housed and clothed as a free market economy has?
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        Dec 12 2011: A big question Tim. I think your contains two separate ideas. I would like to discuss the idea that 'a free market economy has .....fed, housed and clothed' a great number of people. The only PURE free market economies I can think of tend to be black market economies, for example the drug trade, the child begging trade in Delhi, the illegal immigrant workforce in the U.S. In totally free market economies there is usually a huge divide between those who hold the power and those who are subjected to it with few stages in between. The dominant class, need only bestow the minimum benefits to underclass it controls in order to keep functioning. I do not think pure free market economies are the kinds of systems where you would see large numbers of people fed, housed and clothed, quite the contrary.

        Of course in a civilised societies, markets are not entirely free they are regulated to a greater or lesser degree depending on the particular country we are talking about. This is to protect people from the unscrupulous and to ultimately create wider benefits from market action. Given that (I assume) your question really relates to the second kind of social system, i.e, not a totally free market economy, but one which has a mix of private ownership and collective ownership, my answer to your question would be yes, I think we can design the system to have more collective ownership and feed, clothe and house more people. Not only that, I think we can thereby live more sustainably, in happier societies where people can feel more connected to each other and to the natural world that grants us life.
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          Dec 12 2011: Important and valid points you make Joanne. Our economies are mixed, hence it is difficult to assign their successes to any one factor. But do you accept that some form of market economy is beneficial to the greater good? If so, how should we go about deciding the proper balance between freedom and regulation?
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        Dec 12 2011: Hi Tim, well whether or not some form of market economy is beneficial or not, I think it is a foregone conclusion that it is here to stay. That has probably been the case for around eight thousand years I would say.

        To answer your question 'how should we go about deciding the proper balance between freedom and regulation', I think I would have to take issue first with the term 'freedom'. If you think that society is better off when businesspeople have more freedom to do as they please regardless of others, why not other people in society? Why not the thief or the murderer too? My point is no one is free to do as they please, we are governed by our judicial system, laws and systems put in place to make the world a fairer more equal place and to allow society to function well. Therefore we should look at all possible ways to make our societies more equal places which, which function well economically at the same time. The two things are not mutually exclusive as is evidenced in many countries around the world including my own.

        How about proportional representation as a system of government to decrease the possiblility of business power groups gaining too much control? How about regulating the banking system to decrease the power they have over individuals in order to release them from the slavery of debt burdern. How about a people's bank? What about collective or communal garden projects? Why shouldn't workers have shares in the companies they work in and more equal pay structures with management. Healthcare has to be considered a fundamental human right and not subject to the profit motive. I think resoources have to be more evenly distributed between the people who build the society, and not those who control it.
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          Dec 13 2011: Joanne - I respect the rational in all that you say, but there are many details to be considered. Since I’m incapable of addressing all at once, let me pick on just one as an item for analysis. I’m sure you’ll see the possible broader application of the case.

          You say “Healthcare has to be considered a fundamental human right and not subject to the profit motive.” Now, say a healthcare provider is willing to empty bedpans voluntarily for three days a week, but you need them to do so for seven days a week. Is it unethical to utilize the profit motive and offer to pay them extra to work more? Moreover, would it be improper for a private firm which is good at organizing bedpan emptiers to make a profit from their management activities?

          The whole concept of healthcare as a right (in fact the whole concept of human rights in general) deserves a separate thread for discussion.
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        Dec 13 2011: Hi Tim, 'Now, say a healthcare provider is willing to empty bedpans for a certain amount of profit for three days a week, but some people come along who cannot afford to pay for the service. Is it ethical to let these people lie in their own excrement?

        And now Tim, lets replace the idea of the bedpans with 'surgery' and 'medicines' and 'lying in their own excrement' with disability and death. Are you with me?
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          Dec 14 2011: No, I guess you lost me Joanne. It seems like when people focus on being ethical without being pragmatic they end up being neither. I see a lot more potential in creating a system which makes it profitable to keep people healthy then one which prohibits profit from being made in health care.
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        Dec 14 2011: Tim, I guess we are destined to be opposed on several issues. How can one divorce ethics from anything? If that were possible, we would have no need for a judicial system, or prisons would we. Secondly, why is any system better than another one, simply because someone makes a profit? Would you care to explain your reasoning behind that idea?
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          Dec 14 2011: Joanne and Andres: I doubt we really differ much on our goals (or our ethics) but merely in our interpretations. It seems you see capitalism as a necessary evil. Whereas I see it as a tool. And like any tool it can be used for good or bad. Thus I do believe in placing constraints on it’s use. But let’s also do the most we can to take advantage of it’s utility. Doesn’t that make sense?
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        Dec 14 2011: Hi Tim,

        I think that your point about being pragmatic while trying to follow the ideal of ethics is a valid one. As you say, there are many details that need to be considered. But I also think that Joanne's proposals are quite valid and can be reviewed in light of the balance that you mention.

        Maybe healthcare is one of the most complicated to pick from her examples. But let me see if I can thread into the conversation.

        ”Now, say a healthcare provider is willing to empty bedpans voluntarily for three days a week, but you need them to do so for seven days a week. Is it unethical to utilize the profit motive and offer to pay them extra to work more?"

        I assume you mean the provider is already paid for the three days, but is offered 4 more paid days, and a little extra bribe to sweeten the deal.

        Of course, my choice of the word "bribe" is deliberate: In a market economy, that extra on top of a normal wage would be an incentive, whereas and in a completely controlled economy, an extra would be an illegal breach of the rules. But even in the US system, one cannot offer an extremely large incentive without breaking the balance between the multiple elements of the transaction. So there is some limitation as to how much "bribe" can be offered

        Now, in my view, even if that is the way the normal system works, yes it is a bit unethical: if the provider could actually work 7 days but it is only offering 3 in order to get a better offer for the other 4 it is unethical on the part of the provider. On the other hand, and if the provider has valid reasons for volunteering only 3 days (for example, each bedpan emptier would need to give up weekend days to complete the 7 days) then it would be unethical to accept the bribe if the actual workers did not participate in the decision.

        In this hypotetical scenario, a solution a bit more ethical would be to seek another provider and pay a comparable rate for the other 4 days
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        Dec 15 2011: Hi Tim, yes I do think we are clunking heads and perhaps slightly missing each other's points.

        When I said; 'markets are not entirely free they are regulated to a greater or lesser degree depending on the particular country we are talking about. This is to protect people from the unscrupulous and to ultimately create wider benefits from market action.' This is shows I DO think markets can be a useful tool. A system cannot be evil per se, because a system cannot have intent. It is merely something designed to be useful.

        I asked you the question 'why is any system better than another one, simply because someone makes a profit out of it?' I am still hoping to hear your answer.
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        Dec 15 2011: Hi Tim, I thought your question regarding human rights and your idea 'when people focus on being ethical without being pragmatic they end up being neither' was a good one, so I have put it up for discussion. I hope you have time to participate.
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          Dec 15 2011: Thanks for focusing the discussion Joanne. I have a much easier time dealing with one issue at a time.

          I wouldn’t say that one “system [is] better than another one, simply because someone makes a profit out of it'

          I would say, in general, self-regulating systems have an advantage over politician managed systems. Of course, any self-regulated system may at times go off track and require some adjustment. But any government run program inherently is prone to cheating, nepotism and just plain laziness.

          That said, I do believe that government, at times, can provide useful and needed services. But transparency is essential to their being well managed. And outsourcing to private enterprise is at least worth considering.

          I’ve appreciated many of your comments about the Tonga and the benefits of communal living. Have often wished for the simpler life-style myself. One thing I keep wondering is if humankind will ever find a way to incorporate the inherent good, as illustrated by the Tongan, with the benefits of modern technology. What form do you think that might take? Wouldn’t it require some form of decentralization?
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        Dec 15 2011: Hi Tim, I wanted to give you a thumbs up for your last comment but it would not let me for some reason. 'Self regulating'? Lets explore that notion further. Any system could be described as 'self-regulating' if it is left alone without adjustment. It is the outcome that would be in question. If we did not manage animals on a farm for example, the system would still manage itself, only the outcome might not be what we would hope for as a farmer. The dogs would eat all the cattle, the chickens would go and roost in the farm house.

        So I guess the debate (if that is what this is) moves to whether or not we agree or disagree that a self-regulated economy ('self-regulated' more or less, I realise you have qualified that in your last comment) produces better outcomes than a managed one. You might have guessed by now that I come down firmly on the side of management. The problems you site with management, cheating, nepotism and just plain laziness' are to me, just systemic design issues.

        The BIG problem I have with self -regulated economies can be summed up in one word. Selfishness. Due to the human propensity for it, self-regulated economies form increasingly monopolistic structures which become increasingly inhumane, exploitative and destructive.
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          Dec 16 2011: Hi Joanne. Sorry for not getting back to you sooner, but I got swept up with a flurry of activity at another web forum.

          Perhaps self-regulating is not the best term for what I have in mind. Maybe minimally-politician-managed (or something to that effect) would be better. Take food production. A free market will respond to the demand of hungry consumers. A government managed system will feed us a diet based on high-fructose corn syrup. But an argument can be made for assuring stockpiles for times of shortage. An optimal balance should be sought. But without a constant skeptical oversight of government bureaucracies they are bound to bloat with inefficiencies and we will end up with the constant shortages prevalent in centrally controlled economies. Economic systems where rewards correspond to effectiveness at fulfilling needs are bound to be the most productive.

          OK, selfishness by definition is bad (acting with disregard for others). But self-interest is inherent to any living thing. And to say that a non-capital based economy will have less selfishness is a bit hard to understand.

          But, what type of system would you propose? As appealing as the tribal life is, I assume you’re not intending to make us all hunter-gatherers.
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        Dec 16 2011: Sharing ?
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          Dec 18 2011: Hi Helen, yes I agree that we should remember how to share... On that topic, this video shows kids in an experiment that hopefully will bring a smile to your face

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPszoV9e6K8

          IT is in spanish but i think it does not require a translation
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        Dec 16 2011: Hi Tim, thanks for the comment. I would like to respond to this comment 'OK, selfishness by definition is bad (acting with disregard for others). But self-interest is inherent to any living thing. And to say that a non-capital based economy will have less selfishness is a bit hard to understand.'

        My point was not that we should attempt to eradicate selfishness, that would be a stupid thing to suggest. What I intended to show was that the BECAUSE human beings ARE selfish, or self interested if you prefer that word instead, markets (when left unregulated or free) form 'increasingly monopolistic structures which become increasingly inhumane, exploitative and destructive.'

        Since I have already acknowledged that market action is a tool which has to be harnessed, then it is already clear I am not suggesting enforcing tribal life or hunter-gatherering, as appealing as thought might seem on the surface.

        I oppose the idea that self-regulated economies do things better. That is what I said, and what I believe. That some regulated economies do things badly, well that is obvious. We need to work on the design, the system to make sure it ticks all the boxes. I advocate the nordic model as a starting point, with strong protections for the environment.
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          Dec 18 2011: Totally agree Joanne that the Scandinavian countries seem to have developed the best system for balancing capitalism and government and should be considered a model for the rest of the world. It is interesting to note that all the Nordic countries have a population of under ten million. Do you think their relatively small size is advantageous to creating the form of government that they have? Perhaps it is beneficial to addressing the systemic issues you mentioned.

          Are you familiar with Leopold Kohr? He came up with the phrase “small is beautiful” and advocated for moving in the direction of smaller political units.
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        Dec 19 2011: Hi Tim, no I am not familiar with Leopold Kohr, so I will enjoy exploring his writing. In similar discussions I have had in other TED forums I have come across the idea that the Nordic model could not work in the US because of its size, but I cannot see a reason why not, at this stage. Other smart people have suggested though, in that context that 'small is beautiful” and advocated for moving in the direction of smaller political units' too, and I think this idea is interesting and worthy of (my) further exploration, so thanks!
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    Dec 9 2011: Ownership of material things - property, natural resources, other people, is the source of excessive pride, elitism, territorialism, envy, jealousy - and even war.

    The only thing we truly own, is our selves. We are carers and custodians of everything else - not owners.
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      Dec 9 2011: Hi Allan,

      I fully agree with your first statement. In the rush to protect possessions many have ignored the fact that we humans survived as a species thanks to our drive to live in groups.

      In any community, individuals cannot expect to expand their footprint without any consideration of the other members of the same community

      Ownership per-se may not be the issue... i imagine that if i lived in a hunter-gatherer group and had some food to feed the young members of my family, i would certainly try to protect it if someone else came in with the intention of taking it just because he felt like it. but if this person's life depended on it, for me, the right thing to do would be to consider this as a different scenario (in other words, in a society we must care about other members of it)

      I like the concept of carers and custodians. As every atom and bit of energy in my body eventually will leave it and go form part of something/someone else, I recognize that everything in my life is only temporary borrowed from nature
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    Dec 9 2011: Hi Andres !

    You pose some very interesting questions !

    Here is a little tid-bit of culturally relevant info :

    When the Europeans* first came to the island of Newfoundland roughly 5 hundred years ago, they brought with them an idea never before heard of in those parts...
    an idea which cost many, many lives.

    You see within 3 centuries of encountering the Indigenous people known as the Beothuks, every last one of them were wiped out... and not simply because of disease or starvation, many of them were hunted and killed for "theft"... an idea so completely foreign to these people, that they would not have even comprehended our idea of private property. In other words, whatever they happened to find in their travels, they would happily bring back to their families and friends, without any idea that the objects might be "owned" by someone.

    Here is a link to a rendition of Chief Seattle's speech ... just to illustrate what happened on the other coast... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GFJJhd6rM1w

    *Also : I believe that when the word "European" is used in a context such as this one, it helps to ease the burden of guilt that still remains in our ancestral conscience.
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      Dec 9 2011: Hello Denis, thank you for joining the debate and for contributing sharing this very interesting historical perspective!

      For years I have been growing a deep curiosity regarding the first americans. It started, of course, back in Mexico and it was originally limited to pre-hispanic cultures and civilizations; but it has slowly extended as i find more similarities in other pre-european societies of this continent.

      I am convinced that understanding history is one of the first steps to ensure a better future, and I learned from Howard Zinn that we must always keep a healthy skepticism regarding official historical accounts.

      Thanks for sharing the link. Chieff Seattle's speech is indeed a powerful summary of what native americans considered sacred: land, plants and animals, wind and water, and the way all those elements supported their survival.

      You are right to point out that the term "European" seems to deflect the responsibility of the massacre of native americans. Although it is widely known that the policies that resulted in such vast scale massacres were defined in the decades before and after the revolution, the founding fathers being among some of the most prominent people crafting these policies.

      But instigating guilt for something that has happened already is useless. I think that correcting a wrong is a thousand times better than simply saying "i am sorry" and doing nothing

      So how do we practically correct a wrong of such magnitude? I do not know yet. But as a civilized species I think that it would say a lot, if we ever manage to look back at history, without any guilt or blame, and simply state: this was wrong and this is how it was corrected
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        Dec 9 2011: Sorry Andres...

        I wasn't meaning to make the conversation about cultural guilt, which I agree is useless, unless it serves to move us towards correcting the wrongs. Here in Canada, an official government apology was issued only three years ago ... and much is being done to assist in the creation of First Nations self-government and justice systems. The "European" note was simply an after-thought.

        But in terms of your topic, the whole private ownership mentality could be traced back to the roots of our civilization. In mentioning the Beothuks and Chief Seattle, I was simply trying to suggest that there have been other ways of being here on this planet without the me & mine mentality.

        Resource ownership, i.e. control and profits given to the few, rather than the wider community, is an issue that has come to the fore in British Columbia recently. The provincial government here has been issueing licences for water usage on our rivers, to encourage the development of privately owned hydro-electrical generating stations. There has been considerable resistence and protests, as the livelihood of many communities will be affected.

        The idea of ownership/control is so inherent in our system and our psychology, that it is rarely challenged... perhaps because of ther fear of being labelled anarchist or communist or some other term meant as a derogatory label.

        I was simply trying to point out that it is possible to stand in a more cooperative manner, to share in the un-owned wealth of our natural environment.

        The whole us/them, rich/poor mentality could possibly transform into "Us"... if the walls around us keep crumbling ! Trouble is, in such turbulent times, many withdraw into their particular in-group to fight for their rights alone... but perhaps this too will change as the dialogue continues!

        Imagine!
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    Dec 8 2011: Great question Andres.

    I’ve always had a problem with the idea of private ownership of land. Did the landowner create the land? What gives them the right to control it? What if all the land ends up in few hands? Would the landowners have the right to collect rents from the rest of us just for being present on some spot of earth?

    The topic has many aspects worth delving into, but let me put forth one idea for consideration.

    In the early years of air travel there arose the legal issue of an airline’s right to fly over privately held property. Traditionally, landowners held the right to a piece of land extending down to the center of the earth and up into the heavens. The issue went to court and, out of consideration for the common good, the courts decided that no, private landowners did not control the airspace.

    I think it is important to consider all issues of private property in this light. That is - what rule set should be established which will best further the common good? Is there any better approach?
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      Dec 8 2011: Tim, just a heads-up for you. I need a place to Occupy. Me and eighty or so friends will be camped in your front yard when you get home tonight.
      Ed Long, Secretary
      Coalition to Occupy Tim's Place
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        Dec 8 2011: Hi Ed,

        If the end result is that my kids will not end up paying millions in taxes that were used to bail out banks, i will be happy to provide space in my front yard for tents and even participate in the discussion as often as my job allows me to

        ;-)
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          Dec 8 2011: Andres, do you truly not recognize any benefit of land ownership?
          I have no right to expect to be alone unless I own the place and have the legal right to refuse and prevent entry by others. Were it not for the freedom to own property the following quote would be right on:
          "Modern Americans are so exposed, peered at, inquired about, and spied upon as to be completely without privacy-- members of a naked society and denizens of a goldfish bowl." (Edward V. Long) no relation.
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          Dec 9 2011: Hi Edward!

          Do you really own a property? Is it completely yours? Then why do you have to pay taxes for it, and if you don’t the state will take over it and sell it?

          Aren’t you somehow renting it to the government?

          Regards!

          JB
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        Dec 8 2011: Hi Ed. My front yard’s a little too small for all 80 of you, why don’t some of you set up in the back yard?

        I was hoping my comment might spur some response.

        OK, so the counterargument might be that by having some private property, perhaps with limited rights, makes sense. So some questions are:
        . what property can be privately owned?
        . what are the limitations?
        . what criteria do we use to decide?
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          Dec 8 2011: Ah, the thought evolves. I only know I have a basic need for occassional privacy. How my "Ownership" of property is admininstered, and by whom, I don't know. But please, Tim, don't deny me the control of the little 16K square foot piece of Sonoran desert I call home. I willingly forfeit the right to use MY land in a way which violates the law or is detrimental to society.
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        Dec 8 2011: Hi Ed,

        It is not black and white. There are some benefits to land ownership. But I question the way land ownership works today. Land was stolen in the 19th century and today we defend it with guns and teeth, and when asked about the legality of owning a piece of stolen land we simply shrug our shoulders and pretty much say "it was somebody else's problem, it is all legal now".

        Now, I would argue that you have the right to expect to be alone, regardless of whether you own or not a piece of property. But the reason why i argue this is because i don't like much those legal rights that benefit only a small percentage of a population. The legal system, being part of government, is a human construction. not an eternal institution. And at any time we have the right to evaluate whether the legal system is performing the social function that it is supposed to perform, and change it if it is not.

        I completely agree with you regarding individual privacy. But there has to be a better way to ensure it than requiring people to own a piece of property if they want to enjoy any privacy.
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          Dec 9 2011: I am anxious to read your suggestions for a better way, Andres.
          Will it be a global redistribution of Earth's land?
          Will it be a prohibition of war, which is the method whereby large pieces of land, aka countries, change ownership?
          Will it be a rigidly enforced worldwide peace and harmony where everything is shared equally with no squabbling allowed?
          Don't give up!
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        Dec 9 2011: Hi again Edward

        global redistribution? yeah! let's take the total number of acres of productive land and divide it by 7 billion and then run a lottery to allocate people to their respective portion!

        war? i would make it immoral, and would preach every sunday against it

        as for worldwide peace and harmony we'll have to hope that john lennon's songs will do for now.

        =)

        I generally advocate for gradual change. Slow change is better than no change at all. As I stated before, I am not advocating for the abolition of private property. I rarely seek black and white definitions.

        In my opinion, a more fair principle of private property is a noble goal, and as such I will take your advice and will not give up. But I also recognize that it is a daunting task. Some things are so embedded in our current worldview that it seems preposterous to even imagine they could change.

        The current ownership system is based on profit, people accumulate goods, land and capital with the objective of securing future profits. So it is only natural to deduce that the only way to get people to give up on some of that will have to be by making it less profitable to own large portions of land. Yes, I see nothing wrong with owning a few acres of land and living out of the profits derived from working it, but owning hundreds of acres of land and deriving profit solely from renting it to real producers seems to me to contribute to a vicious cycle of forced human dependency

        Bear with me while i dream: If the landless producers are given an alternative way to make a living without having to pay that rent (for example by building vertical farms where they can grow product in much less area), over time the only thing that the owner will get from his ownership is the pleasure of knowing that he is preventing anybody else from using his land. How long could that pleasure last i am not sure.

        Yes, it is idealistic. But to me, it is vital to search for practical steps towards these kinds of changes
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          Dec 9 2011: I think your most daunting obstacle, Andres, is setting a cap on how many acres can be owned by one person/entity.
          I fear I am sounding like a naysayer, but, hey, your ideas could destabilize my boat.
          The statement "A person shouldn't own too much/many __________." sends shivers down the spine of capitalist consumers everywhere.
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        Dec 9 2011: Ed: In response to your comment concerning redistribution of property, I would advocate adjustments to the progressive system of taxation.

        Between 1930-1980 the US had a significantly more progressive taxation system (perhaps too progressive, but that is the issue to be debated). And during that time wealth became more equally distributed. Since the 1980s the taxation of the wealthy has been greatly reduced. With the result that wealth has become, again, more concentrated.

        This situation has come about because of the political influence of wealth. Those with money can buy politicians (the recent Citizen’s United case enhances that ability). To me, this seems to be the essence of the Occupy movement. It is a reaction against this concentration of power. We need a readjustment of the balance. More power to the people.
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          Dec 9 2011: Well Tim, you know the Golden Rule of Capitalism is "Whoever has the GOLD makes the RULES." You are not wrong about the imperfections of the American way.
          If someone wants to change the currency of influence from cash to something else our elected representatives are ready to be influenced.
          My impression is that rich people put more money into the treasury than non-rich people do.
          By the way, I think the Black Panthers own the rights to the mantra "Power To The People".
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          Dec 9 2011: Edward, you say: "I only know I have a basic need for occassional privacy".

          Whilst I agree with that (I too, have that basic need), would you not also agree that privacy could also be achieved through one person's respect for another? Why should it only be wealth that buys privacy?

          My impression is that 'wealth-buying-privacy' is something that would invariably escalate via territorialism and legislation to razor wire and trespass fines. Privacy that comes about through honour and respect for others, would not escalate in that way.

          I guess this is down to a shifting of our framework of normality away from jealously guarded sole ownership of everything we hold dear, to a more empathic normality, rooted in the knowledge that our neighbours also hold those things dear too.

          We cannot force the hand of empathy, honour and respect for others politically or legislatively. In my view, it can only be achieved through an education system that, along with creativity, has it as part of its curriculum - but delivered from the heart and with respect to individuality, rather than reliance on the standardised procedures and tick-boxes in today's curricula.

          I have faith in human nature on this one. I know that nine times out of ten, if I honour, trust and respect someone, they will become honourable, trustworthy and respectful of me.

          Scale this up a bit, and there will be less need for buying privacy through ownership and wealth.
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        Dec 10 2011: Irony doesn't seem to work well in this meeting-place of literalists, Ed.
        But keep it up.
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          Dec 10 2011: I think that Ed's ironic comments are fantastic in this conversation, Paul. I don't think they are out of place.

          They spark more ideas, even from "literalists", they contain a very honest view that can directly contradict some points of view without being confrontational, and they lighten up the discussion providing more room for deal with serious topics that are usually not easy to bring to the table.

          So I second your suggestion of keeping it up!

          cheers
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        Dec 11 2011: Hi again Edward,

        I meant to reply to your comment about you sounding like a naysayer earlier but my memory does not work as it used to. Luckily i just saw it again and i remembered this time

        I don't think you are just being a naysayer. I see you arguing from the point of view of someone who owns property and would be affected by any change in the way this works. It is not my intention to disregard that at all.

        Yes you are correct that any time you hear something like "a person shouldn't own too much xxxxx", the immediate reaction is to think: "and who are you to limit my freedoms?".

        But i would like to go one step beyond. I am nobody to limit anybody's freedoms. But if we find that by somebody owning too much land limits other people's freedoms too, before we simply shrug our shoulders and say "such is life, survival of the fittest", it would be good to remember that when somebody is racing with a horse against someone walking with crutches, the outcome is different from that would come out of a fair competition.

        And how much would it be too much of a thing, then? Is it enough to accumulate enough material goods to support you without having to work again for, say, 100 years? support your spouse's and children’s lives without having to work for 100 years each? Grand children?, where do we stop?

        More importantly (and i get reminded of this every time there is a discussion about a welfare state) isn't it very undesirable for a person to expect to enjoy a living without working at all?

        Maybe somewhere there we could find a rule to figure out how much is too much, Ed
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          Dec 12 2011: I think you pretty well defined how much is too much Andres:
          "somebody owning too much land limits other people's freedom. . ."
          If the supply of a commodity is insufficient to meet the demand for that commodity then the value (price) increases, sometimes to the point where only the wealthy can afford to buy (Beluga caviar; rare works of art; homesites on the Hamptons; etc).
          In free enterprise capitalism my freedom to buy a 1965 Mustang GT-350 is limited by the million dollar price tag. That's how the system works.
          J.F. Kennedy said; "Economic growth without social progress lets the great majority of the people remain in poverty, while a privileged few reap the benefits of rising abundance."
          Social progress seems to be lagging behind where you think it should be. Does capitalism take the blame for that?
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      Dec 19 2011: Why do you think all property should be owned Don? Really, all? What advantage would humankind take from that?
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          Dec 19 2011: I agree with all four points. They do however raise an interesting question. What IS ownership? And sorry Don, you didnt answer my question, I am still interested to hear you answer. Why is it so important, that property must be owned?
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          Dec 23 2011: Thanks for the idea, it is worthy of consideration. I guess my anxiety around ownership relates to two ideas, possible exclusion of other entities of the bioshpere from using the thing that is owned and exposure to possible exploitation of that thing by the owner. Everything that is owned, may be subjected to one or both of these situations or not? Something can also be self-managed, can it not?

          I hope you can still find time to discuss this, because it is heading in an interesting direction.
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    Dec 16 2011: We do have to have boundaries and useful technoly to help us to become a world middle class, but the proper idea is that these boundaries need to be set by individuals. Ponder the Golden Rule and the Charter for Compassion. Is that not the solution ? But it is almost never used.
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      Dec 17 2011: Hi Helen, what did you mean by this? 'but the proper idea is that these boundaries need to be set by individuals.'
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    Dec 14 2011: I define ownership as an individual beings understanding, on any level, that they have a commodity in which to protect. There are a variety of examples in nature of organisms that protect their property, such as any animal that protects its young, food or land.
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      Dec 14 2011: Hi Benjamin, thanks for your comment. Yes i think we both agree in that
      understanding: the drive to protect a resource or commodity from others.

      I would be curious to learn about those examples in nature... isn't it more like they protect the resources they need to survive? Of course if I had a gallon of water and there was a draught, I would go to great lenghts to protect it from people who might want to take it from me

      But consider a different scenario: If i had plenty of water to drink and i blocked a stream to water my garden because i like it to look nice in the summer, without caring whether the people downstream will not have enough for their own basic needs... Would it be a similar scenario? Could i still argue that water runs through my property so it is mine to protect?

      My argument is that, not only the method of distribution of new natural resources and new commodities produced by humans should take into account the basic survival needs of other human beings; but one step further: the existing distribution of those resources should be reviewed to see it is already leaving others unable to fulfill their most basic survival needs.

      cheers
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      Dec 9 2011: Hello Richard, thank you for the references. I have not read either Fred Harrison or Julian Pratt, but after a little googling i am intrigued and i will certainly follow your advice. Seems like i could learn a lot from both of them.

      How do you see the issue? Is there a way to find some middle ground? to achieve some sort of ethical private ownership?

      cheers
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    Dec 8 2011: Should?. . . no. Will everything be owned?. . . Probably,because it is impossible for governments to tax unowned property.
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      Dec 8 2011: Ha ha, indeed Ed, goverment will try to find a way to tax the air we breathe one day

      But i agree with you. it is the "should" and in particular the strong feeling i have that the answer is no, that i am most interested in exploring

      cheers
  • Dec 8 2011: Arguments about private property are one of the leading causes of conflict between men. Technology to extract minerals from the earth or moon exists, it is just not done in many instances because it is not cost effective yet to do so. In instances such as mineral rights associated with oil or mines, it is done. There is a speculative piece to this wealth and processing expenses that limit represent costs, but the gains must warrant both the risk and the costs. This extraction of a resource from the earth is mostly uncontrolled in our country. There are special cases, such as Alaskan citizens getting money from oil, but mostly it is finders keepers within the framework of the law. Part of this puzzle is enforceability of such laws and personal property claims. If I claim I own the air, and want rent, how would l collect this fee or prevent people from using it? Yet, is is in the public interest to prevent people from polluting it, and this is enforceable to some extent (EPA). Similarly, flowing water or oceans are not really owned, although access can be controlled. I think eminent domain is an example of a conflict between the property rights of the individual and the public. When does eminent domain apply to Intellectual property? Shouldn't the individual be allowed to benefit from his ideas to the exclusion of others after profit? Yet, if these ideas have the capacity to cure diseases, or otherwise positively solve public problems, or negatively influence the outcome of wars (like the A-Bomd) ahould they be made available to the public? It is an interesting balance. The cost of protecting the IP versus the potential gain is an interesting and ongoing series of legal adjustments to public opinion and the opinions of decision makers.
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      Dec 8 2011: Hi Robert, thanks for your comment, it highlights quite a number of the sour points regarding private ownership. From your answer I would like to take two elements and dig deeper to see if i can learn some more.

      First the concept of speculation. When does it switch from a random unlikely event to something that should be protected as property by the law?. Intellectual property is interesting. I commend the purpose of giving an inventor/creator certain protection (in the form of a temporary monopoly). This clearly encourages more innovation since the inventor will have the resources to continue working and generating new ideas. But if she/he dies... what purpose does it serve to protect somebody else's temporary monopoly? Innovation certainly stops, so i guess the only purpose left is to ensure a constant flow of future revenues for the new patent/copyright owner. So basically we are saying that in that case the law will be just protecting an extrapolated estimate of future revenues. To some extent that is also the case with patents that are bought from the original inventors/creators. Thinking about such a scenario, is protecting future unknown revenues valid? what purpose does it serve for society in general?

      Second, I would like to see the relationship between land ownership and the finders-keepers concept. As we all know, the state of Israel was founded a few decades ago based on the assumption that the jews had some valid historical claims over some of the land in the middle east. Would it be ok to do the same with the native americans? Most of their land was appropriated through war, stolen, squatting or by forced deals. And long after the jews were dispossessed of their land

      Most people would get in trouble if they bought a stolen car, but buying an acre of land stolen a couple hundred years ago is seen as normal in our society. Can we do better than that as humans? or is it still the prehistoric rule of survival of the strongest the best we can aspire to?
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    Dec 8 2011: Absolutely NOT! Who said that the first person to a resource owns it- all of it? Why did our societies evolve to be this way?
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      Dec 8 2011: Hi Debra,

      I agree with you. Yes the way i framed the question is meant to be provoking. But in the end I also think that the answer is a resounding no.

      My whole point is to try to promote a bit more awareness of the extreme situation in which we find ourselves in regards to private ownership

      And like you, I am very interested in understanding what has brought us to this point. I think it's an ambitious endeavor: a combination of history, psychology, cognitive neuroscience, economy and law can throw light on why private property is what it is today, and we need to add to that knowledge in engineering, chemistry, physics and biology in order to handle resources in a more sensible manner in the future

      Now, as a thought experiment: if completely abolishing private property couldn't be feasible without resorting to violence, what would be a good compromise? What kind ot things should and should not be owned privately?
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        Dec 14 2011: Andres - It’s interesting you mention neuroscience as a factor in the discussion. Just finished reading an interesting article on this topic:

        http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/shiller80/English
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          Dec 14 2011: Very interesting indeed Tim, thanks for sharing it!

          Have you heard any of Dan Ariely's talks? he has been studying behavioral economics for quite some time, with some startling findings!

          I was just listening to NPR and seems like a law has been passed recently that will require tv ads to lower their volume to the same volume as the programs... the reasoning is that the effect of this "jump" in volume causes reactions in the brain that evolved hundreds of thousands of years ago to protect us from predators... and any information our brain gathers when in such state is more likely to form long lasting memories, due to the chemical status of the brain...

          It is indeed necessary to consider all these aspects too if we want to grasp how economics affect peoples lives and how could we do things a bit more ethically

          cheers!
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          Dec 14 2011: On the same topic, for some time also I have read the work of Kahneman and Tversky, who developed Prospect Theory in 1979.

          Prospect Theory helps explain how the brain processes decisions in situations of uncertainty (very related to the way economy works). They found that our rationality is not so much... we are assymetric in our evaluation of gains and losses, and also our risk aversion or risk seeking van vary a lot depending on external factors, it is not fixed at all.

          As stated in the article that you mentioned, one of the fundamental assumptions of Modern Economic Theories is that people are rational agents seeking to maximize their gains.

          Both Dan Ariely's and Prospect Theory findings contradict this assumption
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        Dec 14 2011: Thanks Andres. You’ve given me a lot to look into. Will take a while to digest.

        Came across the Dan Ariely website:
        http://danariely.com/

        Is there a video you would recommend?

        And the wikipedia entry on “Prospect Theory”
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prospect_theory

        First thing that struck me was the non-linear transfer function. Seems analogous to the input/output relationship of neurons (or neural network elements). I’ve got a lot of reading to do.
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      Dec 14 2011: Debra: I thought the rule was that the last person to fight for a piece of property was the owner.
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    Dec 7 2011: Andres,

    First things first, great question.

    Now my own personal political and philosophical views lean more towards anarchism and in that regard I would be opposed to the entire notion of private property all together. Just how I believe that capitalism carries many negative consequences, I think private property would do the same as well.

    A communist anarchist (who was also an anthropologist) by the name of Peter Kropotkin wrote a book called "Mutual Aid" and in the book he talks about how people think that cooperation/mutual aid is just wishful thinking and unrealistic but he gives empirical evidence as to why not only these people are misinformed but how communism (in the sense of community) has always occurred in history and societies in which things are held in common are far better off than those who value private property.

    Now I do not want this post to be all about anarchism but I'll make one more reference that I've mentioned before. There is a very small region w/about 800+ people in Denmark called Freetown Christiana. One of the laws state that they cannot have their own private cars. There are about 150 cars and they share the cars. There is not much conflict and the citizens do not feel inclined to have their own cars. I find this interesting.

    Now I've noticed you mentioned two different things here: one is the availability and the use of resources. The other being ownership of these resources. In this regard I would have to say that I do not think it is a problem to use the resources from the ecosystem as well as the moon as you mentioned. I mean after all we are here on earth and we need to survive and make a living. In regards to owning things private, I really think is the root of all conflict. The moment we start to attach ourselves to our objects, resources, etc many issues arise with others.

    This mindset of private ownership I think is really the root of most of our ecological issues if you ask me.
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      Dec 8 2011: Hi Orlando, thanks for your comment.

      Yes, I am familiar with the work of Kropotkin. I do find many of the principles of anarchism appealing. It is a shame that the word anarchist has been used in the media only to refer to vandals, and that anarchism, just like communism, is a term that is so easily demonized even without actual knowledge of what they propose.

      Now, although I see many things wrong in the current system of private ownership, I would not advocate for abolishing all private property overnight. But I would certainly love to deep dive into the details and propose substantial modifications to the current status quo.

      I did read about Christiania, interesting concept indeed. It is a bit sad that drug gangs prey on the community and have caused havoc in the past. But I'll follow their development.

      Yes when it comes to using resources, as a species it is unavoidable to keep applying our knowledge and technology to their extraction and usage. But I think that we should also consider future generations and also other species when using them. One of the biggest problems i see is that we humans have a distorted and vastly inflated self image: the "pinnacle of evolution", "life's final destination", etc etc etc. It would be great to figure out how to educate ourselves (in particular our children) in order to make our self image a bit more humble and realistic.
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        Dec 9 2011: No problem Andres,

        I must say I'm quite flabbergasted being that not to many people are familiar with Kropotkin, let alone anarchism.

        You are indeed correct about the baggage that the term anarchism brings to the table. Whenever I talk about it people really think that I'm crazy or totally manipulated by someone else. The media and might I add the text book industry(if this does not count as the media) as well as the education system has not done a great job telling what anarchism really is. That has to be changed but I doubt if people, at least in the U.S., are open to that.

        On a more practical level I am actually with you in terms of modifying the current status quo. If I had the choice, I'd create a society in which even thing is held in common or people understand how impermanent their objects really are to the point where they are not attached to it. Anyhow my question is, hypothetically speaking, what would such a modification look like (if you had the choice of changing it?)

        As far as Christiania yes, I did not want to paint the picture that it was paradise, it indeed has its issues.

        I've actually noticed that as well. It does not seem that we are as mindful about the future as we should be. I remember studying about the nuclear repository at the Yucca Mountains in Nevada and one of the arguments against it is how future generations would be affected by such a construction.

        But the use of resources are unavoidable. many people like to talk about how the Native Americans were extremely eco-friendly and that they would never do anything to hurt the ecosystem but what most people do not realize is that the natives managed the forest for 58 different reasons other than keeping warm and making food. This is not to say that natives did not have respect for the land (there intent was indeed pure) but this comes to show that even perhaps even the most eco-friendly culture had to rely on the land.

        but I am intrigued as to what your modification wo
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          Dec 14 2011: Hi Orlando, sorry it took me so long to get back to you.

          I am still in the process of learning in order to have concrete proposals. As you probably have seen, I try to do a lot of thought experiments to play scenarios in order to grow in understanding. Once some decent level of understanding is achieved, more concrete proposals will certainly follow.

          But thinking about this hypothetical scenarios, one of them is this:

          In any economy, production is made more efficient by specialization and consolidation. In the case of the free enterprise market, the ideal is a few big players each working optimally on certain specific component of a full product. One extreme scenario is to have a single owner producing each individual component at maximum efficiency (a conglomerate of Monopolies). The burden falls on competitors that disappeared during the fight for each top spot.

          In the other extreme, every consumer has the means to produce every component (at a very low efficiency, of course) and there is no need for consolidation since there is widespread availability of low cost components (literally millions would have the means of producing them at various low efficiencies). The burden falls on everybody since the time it takes to produce a single unit is extremely long.

          Somewhere between these extremes, I could imagine a scenario where efficiency is desired as well as employment for the vast majority of the population. What would happen if you had a limit as to how big each producer can get? Say, nobody can own a company of more than 100 people so the demand for product will always be spread across a large number of suppliers.

          What would this do to the existing model? Could this model achieve some acceptable level of efficiency? would companies of size 100 allow owners to accumulate profits/capital at an acceptable rate? Would this type of competition make the distribution more fair?

          I am sure we can build a few more scenarios like these