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Univ. of Arkansas, Fayetteville

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Monday, July 10, 2006

Property Theory in a Nutshell

From the introduction to Richard Pipes' book Property and Freedom:

Discussions of property from the time of Plato and Aristotle to the present have revolved around four principal themes:  its relation to politics, ethics, economics, and psychology.

1.  The political argument in favor of property holds that (unless distributed in a grossly unfair manner) it promotes stability and constrains the power of government.  Against property it is claimed that the inequality which necessarily accompanies it generates social unrest.

2.  From the moral point of view, it is said that property is legitimate because everyone is entitled to the fruits of his labor.  To which critics respond that many owners exert no effort to acquire what they own and that the same logic requires everyone to have an equal opportunity to acquire property.

3.  The economic line of reasoning for property holds that it is the most efficient means of producing wealth, whereas opponents hold that economic activity driven by the pursuit of private gain leads to wasteful competition.

4.  The psychological defense of property maintains that it enhances the individual's sense of identity and self-esteem.  Others assert that it corrupts the personality by infecting it with greed.

These four approaches fairly exhaust the range of arguments for and against property articulated during the last three thousand years.

Well, I guess I'll just assign this for my Property Theory seminar in the fall and take the semester off.

Ben Barros

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