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The Problem with Ownership

The problem with ownership is that some people will always be jealous of what others own. It isn’t that no one understands ownership. Inherently, everyone knows that some things belong to some people and not to others. They know when things are stolen or when they are earned. Attempts at defining this may be useful, but such definitions merely attempt to define what is. It is real whether it can be exactly defined or not. Like life. We all know what life is, but even though it is basic to our existence, definitions are barely sufficient.

The arguments against ownership in reality boil down to ownership being transferred to someone else. It may be framed in terms of community, but someone is always in charge, making decisions that only owners can make. If something is being used, there is someone who claims the right to make decisions that no one else can make. Someone has to be saying do it this way or wait before this is done or spend more time on this or there isn’t enough money to do that part. Whether it be from mutual agreement among those surrounding the person or by the force of power, someone acts as owner.


An owner can poorly manage what he owns. For instance, those who dictate that a certain thing they exercise ownership over must be equally shared between those not allowed to act as owners, will almost certainly find decay and destruction prevalent. Without the rewards of ownership available to these forced sharers, without any responsibility for action or recompense for quality of action, neglect and apathy will soon prevail. Observation will likely reveal that while this sharing is required among others being deprived of ownership, more distinct expectations of ownership will be applied to things that most directly affect the owner.

Now, we could talk about legitimate ownership. That is what the disagreement is really about. How is ownership initiated or maintained? Who gets to be in charge of what? Does anyone else have the moral right to terminate someone else’s ownership. Does a large enough group have a greater moral right to take what someone else owns just because they all agree to do it? Does someone who claims a higher spiritual understanding have the prerogative to terminate another person’s ownership? Does someone who claims to have a better scientific grasp of the situation have a right to interfere with someone else’s ownership?

This are questions that all individuals should ask themselves. They should ask them in regard to things they are convinced that they own. They should ask what kind of force they would want someone else using against them or those they love. Each person should be wary of his own selfish tendencies that covet what others own, often disguised as sanctimonious proclamations of other people’s greed or unworthiness.

One of the ironies of voting is that some people think that through voting they are giving themselves ownership. They are really conceding ownership to a ruling class, a ruling class that has very little incentive to pay attention to a given individual. Just try to go camp wherever you want to in a “public” forest or say what you want to in a “public” building and see how seriously they take your citizen ownership.

The question of self-ownership is inherent in all discussion of ownership. Just the fact that force is required to make someone do what he would choose not to do signals that he owns himself. That person alone has the ability to decide what to think and how he will use his own body. He might decide to work for someone or he might be worn down by violence inflicted on him, but his actions are always his choice.

Unfortunately, there has been violence and dishonesty throughout history, which complicates deciding who does or should own what. Some people are born to advantage through the hard work and skill of their ancestors. Some people call for the use of government violence to right wrongs or give equal opportunity in the face of this. The problem is that the government cannot make things equal. There is no human way to adequately weigh all the factors and possibilities that have resulted in the current state of things. Just as importantly, taking freedom from all would be necessary to even pretend at this.

Happily, it has been shown time and again that when given freedom, those who will do the work of life are well able to rise above any perceived disadvantage. They understand that they own their time on earth, they own their opportunities, and they own their chance at success. No one else has the ability to live their life for them.

Such honest people also know that the best way to work out ownership issues outside of their physical bodies is to get along with others in mutually beneficial ways. No one has the time, energy, or insight to take care of everything. Even in positions of large wealth and upper management, there is a point of scale where things will be divided. This will benefit those directly involved and open up other ownership opportunities.

This is even true in government. There are things that people with such power would like to control, but it is very difficult. There are always things that are let slide or missed, not only because those claiming government ownership cannot keep track, but because those ostensibly ruled know it is a false ownership. The more pervasive the claim of government ownership, the more corrupt it becomes at all levels, proving again that the people at the supposed top don’t control as much of it as owners as they think they do.

The problem with ownership is that people want to own things, but they don’t want other people to own things without their approval and oversight. It is an incompatibility of philosophy that some people refuse to admit they are engaged in. The problem with ownership is the age-old problem of getting along, which in reality has to be done one person at a time.

Other recommended reading:

Common Law Gave Your Real Property Ownership

Freedom’s Ugly Duckling: A Fresh Take on Property in Land