Survival, Production, Theft and Property

I am fully in accord with Stephen Kinsella’s excellent exposition of libertarian property theory. Near the outset, he explains

“As Hans-Hermann Hoppe argues in A Realistic Libertarianism and many other pieces, property rights arise only because of the fundamental fact of scarcity: the fact that in the real world human actors can have conflict over the use of scarce, rivalrous, material goods and means. To permit the peaceful, cooperative, productive, conflict-free use of scarce resources, property rights allocate a unique owner for each and every resource. The rules are simple, common sense, and natural. They are rooted in Lockean homesteading, or original appropriation: whoever has and uses a resource first has a better claim to it than a latecomer.”

I’d like to present a brief argument as to why property rights to unique owners of each and every resource permit their productive use. This argument explains why property rights to unique owners have arisen. It was a matter of survival, I suggest.

Production is making stuff from raw materials, whereas conquest is stealing stuff that others have produced.

Imagine mankind in its early stages. Imagine two tribes. The one tribe P is productive, offering a tempting target of conquest to the other tribe C, which for whatever reasons now looks upon conquest as a better choice than its own productive efforts. C prefers taking to making, conquest to production.

C appears with all its weapons and demands that P give it tribute or join its forces to engage in plunder further afield. The result may or may not be war, but either way, P is the loser. Tribute in things or in the bodies of its men, women and children is not its idea of fun.

P does not confer with C and say “Everything I have is yours,” as the song goes. P automatically puts up some sort of defense. It automatically defends what it conceives to be its property. Why? It doesn’t have available to it the theory of original appropriation or the theory that it has a better claim, not that these would prevail against C anyway. P knows that if its goods are spread over both P and C, and not just over P, that there will be less for themselves than they had. This decrease endangers its survival.

P’s basic idea is “Produce to eat”, whereas C’s basic idea is “Steal to eat”. C’s idea cannot ensure long-run survival. It needs the Ps of this world to produce. Otherwise, it cannot steal. P’s idea is sustainable, but C’s is not.

P’s notion that they own what is in their hands and what they produced, themselves included, is virtually instinctive. Why? It’s because their standard of living, their lives and their very survival are endangered by C’s conquest. Their productivity is endangered as well if their labor is diverted into war-making, which is C’s method.

Taking is not productive, not like making. Anything made can be stolen, which is not productive. To defend against theft is a matter of survival. Sooner or later, the idea will be articulated that property belongs to people who first produce it from resources and resources are the property of those who first appropriate them for some sort of production. Property will at some point be seen as a matter of right. This idea will rest on a foundation that survival is at stake in maintaining what one has made.

Sooner or later, the idea of individual property within groups will arise, as opposed to ownership by the tribe or community or state. This institution will be seen “To permit the peaceful, cooperative, productive, conflict-free use of scarce resources…” That is, experience will accumulate that demonstrates greater production when property belongs to individuals. At some point, even more productive ways will be devised that meld individual ownership with delegated control, as in corporations.

The root of the property institution, the reason for this permitting and its allocating processes, will still be survival.


10:13 am on October 23, 2018