Thursday, November 22, 2007

And again - absolute property rights

A little while ago I pointed out that part of the trouble with an absolutist approach to property rights is that it is very hard to justify (actually impossible) if you can't prove that one's current allocation f property is justly acquired.

I recently thought of a pretty good example to illustrate this:

Someone steals your car. Two days later you find it and go to repossess it, but the thief says 'it's mine now; my property and I have a right to it'. Are you then in the wrong to take the car back? Of course not. How about if it was two weeks later or two years? No you'd still be in the right. The thief can't ever show that they legitimately possess the car and because of this they can't claim any entitlement to it.

Similarly, it is simply not possible to show that current distributions of property are the end product of legitimate processes. And, because of this, it is not possible to make any sort of absolute (deontological) claim to property rights. There's lots of good arguments for property rights, but they are consequentialist ones and, by their very nature, leave space for conditions and qualification.


Matt Nolan said...

I completely agree with what you are saying. Property rights are essential for a well functioning society, but the allocation of property is a subjective issue.

It is doubtful that the current allocation of property is the result of a legitimate process, and I think this impacts negatively on the welfare of society.

Ultimately, I think the deontological and consequentialist views of property rights can be reconciled if we realise that the means used to gain property influence the payoff associated with the use of that property.

Terence said...

Hi Matt,

There's a longer post in this but, as I understand it (not very well) it's not really possible nor even desirable to marry consquentialist and deontological claims. The two offer completely different ways of looking at 'what is good' questions. Rule utilitarianism or a bit of Rawlsian Jujitsu can get you something that looks a bit like it marries the two, but still doesn't really. Anyhow - definitely more in another post.

Matt Nolan said...

Interesting. I am definitely guilty of mixing consequentialist and deontological claims. I always felt the problem with doing that is the fact that your claims become unfalsifiable, and thereby impractical for policy decisions.

I guess I should read more philosophy :)

Matt Nolan said...

Actually this post:

Is an example of me thrusting deontological and consequentialist claims together in a way that is probably entirely inappropriate. I just can't help it :)