What is the problem of original appropriation?

In answer to the Quora question: "What is the problem of original appropriation?"

Thanks for the A2A. The problems with any variation of "original appropriation" (for example, the Homestead Act, ad coleum, etc. as features of law) are extraordinarily numerous, IMO. Here are just a few:

Presumption of unlimited natural resources and equivalent opportunity. Once resources becomes more scarce, so does opportunity, and this concentrates competition so that anyone in a position of privilege or with sufficient wealth can exclude everyone else from their chances at original appropriation.

Ambiguous or untenable valuation of labor. What should the labor produce (specifically)? Why does this justify ownership? Who will determine these variables, and who will measure outcomes? In the case of the Homestead Act, for example, it is only the initial effort to farm the land that justifies ongoing ownership. How is this responsible (productive, beneficial to society, "profitable" or what have you) management of public land?

A fundamental misunderstanding of the relationship between human activity and natural resources. This concept presumes that human beings can "own" a natural resource merely because they actively engage in claiming or exploiting that resource. It is barely a step above a dog or woodpecker receiving ownership of a tree because they peed or pecked at it (respectively). It is a classic example of anthropocentric, egoic, myopic and profoundly immature thinking, and is no more sensible than axioms like "might makes right," or "it's not a mistake if you learn from it," or "I'm rubber and you're glue, your words bounce off me and stick to you," or "go forth and multiply, fill the Earth subdue it." It is, essentially, the self-justifying delusion of an infantile ego.

A fundamental misunderstanding of the relationship between an individual and society. We either exist for each other, or we exist for ourselves. The individualist might argue for the latter, a collectivist for the former. Who is right? In terms of evolution, it can be strongly argued that prosocial involvement has preserved our species, and that individualistic outliers have only provided evolutionary benefit when they were particularly brilliant, or particularly brave. The standard bell curve would therefore belie any more than a few percent of the population claiming even a potential for their self-serving contributions falling into these categories. This would suggest that the ideal relationship between an individual and society is a mixed one, with some capacity for individualistic pursuits (and motivations) within a horizontally collective structure. But original appropriation is almost purely individualistic, and so misses the mark.

A fundamental misunderstanding of liberty. Liberty only exists through collective agreement; there is no such thing as an "individual freedom" that is not granted in this way. To presume ANY liberty that exists independently of civil society is, once again, a delusional entitlement. Therefore, all "rights" are reciprocal, reflecting the individual's commitment to social structures in exchange for privileges that are both advantageous to the individual AND to civil society. So....in what way is continuous ownership of land because of an unclearly defined "mixing of labor" advantageous to civil society?

I could go on but these are some central points, some of which would apply to "private" ownership of any kind.

My 2 cents.

Comment from Norm Hapke Jr.: I see no problems with a society making laws designating ownership of property. If the society is properly constituted and the laws are passed IAW with the rules set forth therein and individuals follow those laws, what's the problem. Dogs are a non-sequitur; Gaia is not a party to the conflict. As for the justice in the distribution of holdings, Nozick says this: "For Nozick, any distribution of “holdings,” as he calls them, no matter how unequal, is just if (and only if) it arises from a just distribution through legitimate means. One legitimate means is the appropriation of something that is unowned in circumstances where the acquisition would not disadvantage others. A second means is the voluntary transfer of ownership of holdings to someone else. A third means is the rectification of past injustices in the acquisition or transfer of holdings." By this, I would assert that Laws like the Homestead Act fit the bill.

The problem stems from an arbitrary assignment of inherent value, and that "properly constituted" laws often do not account for alternate perspectives on such inherent value. For example, let's say that a group of people believe that religious buildings (churches, etc.) are a pointless waste of space, and do not contribute any value to society. So they pass a law that says anyone who squats in a church and begins manufacturing things then has ownership rights to that property. Now of course religious groups - having standing within the U.S. Constitution and established law - could both sue for damages and potentially claim a criminal act had occurred. The inverse would be true if Native Americans asserted some site is a burial ground, and that current industrial activities there would have to be curtailed. In both cases, though the inherent value is arbitrary (and debatable, according to differing beliefs), established law protects these parties; as status quo it goes unchallenged. But what about parties who do not have a universally recognized standing? It is only fairly recently that endangered species have protections under the law, as well as the critical habitats that support them. But there are many in the U.S. who rail against such assignment of inherent value to species and habitats...because they see their standing in law as contrived and arbitrary (and disruptive of other interests). Hopefully you see where this is going. We assign arbitrary inherent value based on what are often contradictory or competing priorities, many of which only have basis in subjective beliefs or vestigial traditions, others that may be based on scientific consensus, others that are invented out of convenience to serve cronyism and clientism, and so forth. It's all rather fanciful, and often nothing more than oil for squeaky special interests or de facto power structures. So my point is that we need a clearer, firmer grasp of what is beneficial to individuals and society, rather than assuming that the whimsical - or logical - privatization of property is always the wisest course.

Comment from Mark-Anthony Cante: I think you underestimate the sheer importance of the Endowment Effect as a pivotal role in tipping mankind's progress ... we are hard wired for survival first and foremost, so from a lot of perspectives doing anything above the group minimum is dangerous. Because our ego creates the perception that something we own is an extension of ourselves and thus of more importance, it keeps us out of rationality traps. Its in us for a reason, evolution is smarter than you, social grouping is advantageous ... but group dynamics is very complex, not to mention the fact every other self aware creature on the planet does the same thing.

An interesting proposition, Mark-Anthony, and a longstanding one, but alas not supported by current research. The evidence suggests that the Endowment Effect, if it exists at all, is vestigial - a leftover from our primate heritage - and although it does appear in children, it only perpetuates in human adults when it is culturally reinforced (see Evolutionary Origins of the Endowment Effect or Endowment Effect Not Present in Hunter-Gatherer Societies, and A Culture-by-Context Analysis of Endowment Effects, and What Endowment Effect?).

Prosocial traits, however, are genetically and culturally universal, and their contribution to human survival is widely accepted in scientific literature across many different fields. In contrast, the Endowment Effect is argued by a certain school of behavioral economists to fit their preconceived notions about how wonderful free markets can be. It could be argued that the science supporting prosocial advantages in evolutionary fitness is also biased, but you should examine the research yourself to draw a conclusion. Just Google "prosocial genetics" and "prosocial evolution" for a start.

Comment from Arion Horn: I think he was saying it does occur. Most reliably observed in children. But in adults it is the only to product of conditioning. So we must not accept it as a principle. In a therapy session perhaps, but not as a basis for policy.

If you go out looking for neurotic people to study, there will be no shortage. I don’t think this a rational approach to political economy. Empiricism is only useful to find out what we think we know. It fails to explain why. And that’s extremely important for clear comprehension of social phenomena.

For example, why is more money better?
Any answer I can think of to this question assumes one can own property. So all the answers go in a circle. Why is private property good? Because capital is good. Why is capital good, because private property is good.

You told me yourself, neoclassicism now makes no difference between these things, but still there is no explanation as to why these things are preferred over not.

¨Development¨ is another aspect to this morality which is completely absurd to me. What are we developing toward? And why the need to get there in a hurry? The purpose of development is economic. And the purpose of economics is development? More circular reasoning.

If the purpose of development is making more capital and faster, and capital is good because it grants access to property and property is good because it allows one to gain more capital... How can you not feel like a greyhound chasing a wooden rabbit at the dog tracks?
What´s the point?


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