For property to exist, the desirability of ownership may exist only in the mind of a single person.
The value of property tends to rise in relation to the number of persons who desire it. The more persons who desire a given property, the more it will be valued.
Not only do numbers of persons enhance the value of property, the intensity of the desire manifested by these persons will enhance its value.
Let us take an example. Here is a man who has staked out a claim (bounded) in a gold mine. It is very valuable because many men desire gold. It is also very valuable because many men desire gold with great intensity.
The extent of the desire does not make it property more or less. Another man may stake out a claim in the midst of a desert. No one but himself wants this particular piece of apparently worthless land. His ability to own this piece of land is precisely the same as the ability of the former man to own the gold claim.
Take another example. A young man goes to a dance with a young lady. At the conclusion of the affair she presents him with her wilted corsage. Its boundaries are discernible to the naked eye. Its value is discernible only to him. It may be the most valuable piece of property he possesses at this time. It may be utterly worthless to everyone else. It is property.
Thus, a general desirability or even a general utility is not an essential to property or to individual ownership.
Must property be accessible by man in order to be property? No, although at first it may appear to be. Man must be able to encompass the property in his mind, true. But he does not have to reach it physically in order to claim it as his property. Thus, it is possible for a man to own land or other resources on other planets even though man may not yet have learned to reach these places.
A man may own a mountain top no one has learned to scale. Or he may own minerals or metals which are located deeper beneath the earth's crust than man has learned to penetrate. But for his ownership to be recognized he must be able to ascribe a boundary to what he owns. Confusion in this area will bring question to the validity of his ownership.
Ownership begins by claim. Property be comes property not because of the labor of man, but by dint of the claim he makes. And his claim must contain the element of boundary or the claim cannot be recognized.
A man may make a number of items of furniture, let us suppose. His labor is involved. Earlier economists would contend that he owns these pieces of furniture because he expended his labor in their production.
But this supposition fails on two grounds. First, the items made must have a value AT LEAST TO ONE PERSON. If after he makes these items he finds that they are not useful and, indeed, that they are worthless, he will throw them away. Does he still own them? He made them. No, he had an opportunity (under certain circumstances) to claim them as his own. He neglects to establish this claim, be cause, in spite of his expenditure of energy, he doesn't want them.
Who does own them? No one. They are not property.
Second, a man may be hired by another man to make furniture. The second man pays the first man for the expenditure of his labor. The man who expends his labor does not own what he has produced. Instead, he owns what ever he is paid in exchange for his labor.
The man who does the hiring may have expended little or no energy in the process. Indeed, in a modern factory, the real owner or owners may be unaware of the name or the character of the man who does the construction work. Likewise, the maker of the furniture may not know the name or names of the owner or owners.
Labor does not create ownership. The person who hires the work performed establishes his claim to the finished product. The man who performs the labor has a claim only to what he is paid for his services.
The Moral Aspect of Property
Here is a man who inherits a large sum of money from his father. He has not performed any labor to obtain this money. Does he own it? Yes. His claim to it is fully validated by the wish of the prior owner. It has nothing to do with his labor.
Here is a child. He is alive. Life is his most vital property. The fact of his existence relates not to his labor but to the labor of his parents. Does he own his own life? He does. Do his parents own his life? They do not, even though he lives because of their labor and care.
And this brings us into the moral area. We must contend that all property and all property relationships exist because of the acceptance of a moral code or a set of moral concepts.
Earlier studies of this subject of property and property ownership have frequently contended that it is the state and its enforcement or defensive proclivities which create property. This is not so. When one grasps the numbers and kinds of things that can be owned, and hence are property, one can see at once that there is no principle here which demands the existence of a state for ownership to exist.
Property ownership is an idea that immediately intrudes into the moral theater. The existence of ANY property relates to the holding of property ideas by others of one's own kind which ideas are moral in character and will permit of ownership.
Property does not depend upon the ability of the individual or the ability of the individual aided by the state, to defend what he owns. Property ownership does not rely upon force, it relies upon morality. This is one of the reasons for stressing both the necessity of claim and the necessity of boundary. Both claim and boundary delineation are essential, since a recognition of property ownership in fact, is a necessity in any social order.
A hermit, by himself on an otherwise un inhabited island, needs to make no public claim either of his boundary or of anything else. He may own everything without denoting boundaries. Claim and boundary delineation become essential when the hermit is joined by another person or by other persons.
Thus, property ownership, which by its nature is always individual, requires a societal recognition in any area where men live in groups. Other men must recognize the claim and admit of the boundaries. For them to do so, a recognition of certain moral facts be comes mandatory.
Claim to one piece of property by one man, is readily established where men have advanced sufficiently in intellect to see that for their own well-being the sanctity of that boundary is as important to them as it is to the one who has made the claim. Every property boundary establishes two things. It establishes the identity of the owner and the identity of what is owned. It also establishes the area BEYOND the boundary which is NOT owned, thus opening the way for other individual instances of ownership.
Since all men desire to own property, it follows that the recognition of the claim of the one man is essential for the well-being of all men. This is not only the origin of the Golden Rule, which has been in general recognition at least since the sixth century B.C., but it provides us the base of moral law.
No man, even aided by the state, can defend adequately every property boundary he may have delineated. Although the existence of a state and a policing force of one kind or another may have, in primitive minds, assured some degree of emphasis on boundary, the physical facts of life are such that this, in itself, will not serve to make all boundaries safe from trespass or invasion.
Consumption Is Not Immoral
Man, by his nature, is physically capable of trespassing a given property. If the property is defended adequately at the moment, he of course will not do so. But if reliance upon the state as a defender of property is taken as the best safeguard, consider the melancholy record of states versus property and property rights throughout recorded history.
While the state may claim that its existence and functions are adequate to the defense of property, the evidence of our senses and deductive processes assures us that the pretension of the state is nothing more.
While professing to protect all legally recognized boundaries from any and all intruders, the state makes of itself a legal exception. Thus, while men, for their own best interests, may be persuaded that the adoption of a moral code of behavior is an essential, no state has ever been so persuaded.
The state says it will protect men and their property. But no state has ever come forward to protest that it will protect the life and other property of anyone from itself. If in some fictional accounts respecting the organization and management of representative governments this pretense is maintained, we have only to look at the record to see that the entire relationship of the state as a protector of property is a fiction.
The state does not protect property. Rather, it establishes a legal method whereby the state may trespass and confiscate property of various kinds and descriptions. In so doing, the state seeks to justify its actions on the grounds that the actions are necessary for the protection of property.
But let us return to the nature of property and the nature of ownership. And the reason we stress the fact of the moral nature of both property and property ownership is because of the nature of man.
Man is a living organism. To survive he must consume. He must take certain substances and convert them to his exclusive use, or he will perish. The extent and kinds of these substances are everything that can be considered as property. Property ownership is ALWAYS an individual matter.
Were there no property concepts at all, the nature of man, as a consumer, would still exist. But since no understanding of property or property rights would exist, then men would always be at each other's throats, seeking to obtain for themselves those things which seemed to them to be desirable which were possessed by others.
It is entirely possible that the survival of the species was first assured in those dim, dark ages of time wherein men learned that they must respect the boundaries of others if they were to have their own boundaries respected.
Here again, we see the recognition of certain moral aspects. Man must be left alone to consume that which he must consume in order to stay alive. Therefore, consumption in itself cannot be immoral. A man must have a RIGHT, by virtue of his being a man, to consume whatever is essential and desirable for him to maintain his status as a man.
Thus, he must be free BEHIND HIS OWN BOUNDARIES to consume or destroy that which he owns. Consumption is not immoral. But consumption of that which is OWNED by another man IS immoral.
When something is owned, and is therefore property, the owner has the TOTAL right to dispose of it as he sees fit. He cannot be immoral if he uses up that which he has acquired.
Man's ability to reason with accuracy is always subject to debate. But his RIGHT to use that which he owns as he sees fit may not be the subject of debate.
Philosophically, anything can be debated, of course, even the advisability of man's survival. But if we assume that man has, by his nature, a right to survive, then property ownership, which means, in fine, property divestiture and destruction, cannot be questioned.
In order for men to be able to consume within a moral framework which will permit the survival of the species, ownership of property is mandatory.
Ownership Is a Totality
In considering property, some try to classify property to indicate what can properly be done with each kind.
The Georgists would grant economic freedom totally save for property in land.
Various socialist groups believe it is entirely proper for a man to own private property so long as it is not productive property and, also, not too large.
Another group believes that a man may own anything he can properly use, no matter how large, but limited by the man's own use.
The communists profess to a property situation in which no man may privately own the tools of production or distribution but beyond that, private ownership is tolerated.
Anarchists and social theorists like Godwin and Proudhon wish to wipe out ALL ownership.
Some socialist theorists have it that man should never consume anything save "consumer goods." To consume or use up any other kind of good would be a great sin, a moral tragedy. Any number of Americans, not taking the time to reason it through, and imbued with habits of thrift and conservation, are inclined to agree.
They would say that a man may eat a meal and no wrong has occurred, assuming he has paid for the meal through his own efforts. But if a man elects to burn down his house, even though the house is his alone, and even though he takes care that not a single spark flies to the property of another, these same persons will view the second act as one of vandalism or pillage. And yet the house is as totally owned as the meal, and the owner has as many rights to consume the one as the other. If we understand the meaning of ownership and its relation to boundary, we see that there can be no question as to the man's moral right to destroy whatever property is his. To own anything means to be able to control it as totally as its own nature will permit.
The owner of land may use the land or lay it waste. The owner of a house may use it, sell it, give it away or burn it down. The owner of anything is automatically greater than the thing that he owns, and able, MORALLY, to dispose of it as he chooses.
This does not mean to suggest that wholesale destruction is either necessary or wise. But there can be no moral question as to the owner's rights in respect to what he owns.
Remove this concept and you remove ownership.
A man thinks he owns his home because he has paid for it, but if he must obey certain rules respecting it provided by a committee, or some other person, then the fact is that he does not own the home. He only has the use of it under certain conditions. Whoever has the FINAL say is the true owner.
Ownership is a finality.
Illustration: Most of us would view with horror the behavior of a man who would, in spite of precautions, set a torch to his own dwelling, or crumble it with a bulldozer. But government, through various ruses and devices, seizes property which has been privately built and privately paid for and causes it to be destroyed. When this occurs, we look on with great tranquility. Why?
Because, deeply within us we never have quite accepted the idea of private ownership. Americans feel that the government OUGHT to have the final say as to who owns what. We pay taxes each year for permission to continue to use the property we have already purchased. If we don't make that payment, we will be forced to lose our investment. Who is the real owner of the property? The government. We are paying taxes, which are equivalent to an annual rental fee, for the use of the property to which we have title. If the government decides the property should be destroyed, an enactment at law will clear the way.
And the majority of all people in this country will view the entire affair calmly and dispassionately.
But let one person defy this process and dispose of his own property by destroying it, and he would be arrested, tried and undoubtedly convicted.