We need to think simply and clearly about what ownership truly is.
How is ownership established? We might think that we acquire ownership of property from its current owner — that we offer to buy it or trade something for it, the current owner agrees, the exchange is made, and now we are the new owner. That is not how ownership is established, but rather how it gets transferred.
Ownership is originally established by seizure. Property or the material resources from which we create property were, at some point in the past, not owned by anyone. The origination of ownership of that property was an act of fiat, i.e., an arbitrary decree. Someone, sometime declared himself its owner. Before that there was no owner. After that, he was the owner. No one else declared him owner, because that implies the party making the declaration was the owner, and then we’d have to ask how that party became the owner. The provenance of ownership is always a self-bestowed, arbitrary, unilateral right of confiscation of resources that constitutes them as our property.
Some might think that intellectual property is an exception to this, as if the creator is the de facto owner by virtue of creation and the creation is automatically the creator’s property. Of course this is far from the case. Through the 20th Century, creation did not constitute ownership. Copyright, contract, and patent grants did. Creators invariably signed over any rights to their creations to publishers, record labels, movie producers, or other employer. Over the last few decades creators have asserted their ownership rights citing creator status as an argument, which ipso facto indicates their status as creators was insufficient alone to establish ownership. So, both tangible and intangible property is established by confiscation legitimized by law.
So ownership is in fact indistinguishable from theft, except that theft is a self-bestowed, arbitrary, unilateral right of confiscation of property from a current owner, while the original act establishing ownership was a self-bestowed, arbitrary, unilateral right of confiscate resources that no one had yet laid claim to. The self-entitlement of ownership, the confiscation of the resources, and the consequent deprivation of others who now are denied rights to the newly constituted property are the same in both cases. The only difference is whether or not this was the first rights self-entitlement and confiscation. This demonstrates an intrinsic incoherence in the concept of ownership: We consider the original confiscation as legitimate, but we consider every subsequent confiscation to be illegitimate solely because it wasn’t the first.
This means that we consider the significance of the actual acts of entitling ourselves to resources, confiscating them, the consequences of these actions, and the resources themselves all as secondary to the issue of right of ownership of them as property. Diminishing the realities involved in real actions taken by subordinating them Read More…