Reaching Higher Ground
“If a man could mount to heaven and survey the mighty universe, his admiration of its beauties would be much diminished unless he had someone to share in his pleasure” – Marcus Tullius Cicero
In all but the most primitive economies, the production of one person is usually built on the previous labors of others. So it is that one person may chop down a tree, another may saw the wood into boards while a third may shape it into a table. At each stage a person is handing off a physical manifestation of their labor (i.e. property), to another person, often in exchange for another good or service. Thus it is that the full flowering of human productivity requires the peaceful collaboration of many people and, to give appropriate credit to each person’s effort, clear definitions of property ownership.
The concept of property does not necessarily require direct possession or control and this is where things can get complicated. Because it is impossible for modern humans to carry all the tools, clothes and other accoutrements of civilization, we rely on agreements with each other to recognize our connections to these things even when they are not currently under our physical control.
Property Rights and Harmonious Order
As bands of mobile hunter-gathers began the transition to sedentary farming, they had to establish rules to safeguard the extended efforts required in growing crops and to correctly credit the labor to the appropriate individuals and groups. Much of the early writing in societies like ancient Sumer, for example, consisted of detailed tabulations of individual crop production, cattle ownership and transfers of property. In early agricultural societies, whether the land was held in common and individual efforts were credited or whether the land was clearly subdivided so that each individual or family had an explicit connection to the production, the concept of property as a representation of effort was vital in maintaining the harmonious order required for raising crops.
Over time, as the requirement for the majority of people to work the fields faded, and as more people entered craft, trade and other occupations, the concept of money developed as another way of tracking individual production, perhaps first in the form of rare materials such as gemstones or precious metals and later as more abstract representations of wealth such as paper currency or bank certificates of deposit. All of this served as a further refinement of what is defined as property.
- Property is a method of recognizing and protecting each individual’s productive output.
- The accurate accounting and delineation of property is vital in mitigating conflicts between groups and individuals.
Economic Principles: Cooperation and Prosperity - A free, condensed 8 lesson course on economic principles. Covers topics such as the "broken window falacy", the benefits of economic freedom and the hidden costs of government interventions (the seen and unseen).
Money is convenient medium of exchange that has been used for millennia but is often manipulated and corrupted by governments to ill effect. See What has the Government Done to Our Money?