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Property without Magical Thinking

“There is no evidence that objects transform into property, that they are somehow magically infused with an attribute known as ownership. Sure, humans transform inputs into outputs all the time, that’s what we do, and generally we treat things that we have transformed as property. But the truth is that transformed objects are still just objects, and that what makes them property is the fact that we agree to behave in a certain way with them, not that there is an inherent ‘property-ness’ to them. This is why a transformed object (house) may be ‘non-property’ (unowned). The act of transformation does not ‘create’ property, it merely signals that we should behave in a certain way towards it.

The Labor Theory of Property is clear, that man ‘mixes his labor with nature’, that somehow an object is infused with something. This is magical thinking. Now, I keep running into people who want to pretend that the words ‘mixing labor with nature’ don’t mean what they say, that this is some metaphor that I’m misunderstanding. This is also part of the Propertarian philosophy: we can’t behave rationally if words don’t mean what they mean. We can’t behave rationally if our fundamental building blocks are metaphors. We require concrete, clear, unmistakable language with which to clearly describe the universe. Nothing less will do, if we are to create systems which are empirical rather than merely rational.”

William Butchman

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