The Concept of Property
A person’s property consists of tangible and intangible assets that he or she owns or has rights to. Tangible assets include real property, such as land, houses and cars, personal or private property, such as cash, clothing and jewelry; intellectual property, such as patents, copyrights and trademarks; and intangible property, such as communication channels, identifiers (like Internet domain names and network addresses), and the right to use a name for an online identity.
The concept of property has been analyzed by a variety of fields, including law, economics and social science. It has been considered both a source of human freedom and a hindrance to it. The concept of property has a long history and is fundamental to many legal systems, although there is considerable diversity in the property laws that exist among societies.
Samuel von Pufendorf, a 17th-century German jurist, refined the theory of property that had been in existence since ancient times. He argued that ownership of something could be founded only in the fact of physical power manifested in the seizing of it (occupation), and that in order to convert occupation into a property right, state sanction was necessary. Pufendorf also distinguished between absolute and qualified ownership. A bailee has a qualified property right in goods, while an owner has the absolute right to them.
Pufendorf’s English contemporary John Locke had a different view. He argued that property arose as a result of a person’s labour. He suggested that a right to a thing arises when it is “mixed with the labor of the hand,” such as when an individual clears and cultivates land.
Locke’s ideas were influential on later theorists such as Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. Mill’s argument that the law should protect the expectation of property arising from legal systems that have evolved to resolve disputes was based on the idea that interference with private property rarely produces more felicity than it destroys.
Some modern economists, like Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes, developed theories of property that are based on the fact that it is a social product that benefits society. Other economists, such as Ronald Coase, argued that property is essential to social cooperation. The concept of property was further expanded by the industrial revolution, and the development of new types of assets, such as railroads and factories. These new assets led to the expansion of the notion of property to cover scarcity. The concepts of property and the law that supports it are important to many political movements, such as conservatism, liberalism and anarchism. Conservatives believe that freedom and property are closely linked; the more people possess their own property, the freer they are. Liberals and anarchists, on the other hand, believe that property is a means to social stability and equality and should be protected by government. In practice, there is often a tension between these two perspectives.