The Concept of Property
Property is anything that can be owned by someone and that usually has a monetary value. It can be physical (houses, cars, fountain pens and guinea pigs) or intellectual (copyrights and patents). Property underpins many economic transactions: getting on the housing ladder, depositing cash in your savings account and gifting your partner a puppy are all economically significant events that rely on the concept of property.
In some societies, land is considered the most important form of property. Other societally important properties include money and other forms of wealth, human beings, pets, ideas and natural resources. Most societies also have laws and other mechanisms to protect property rights.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, a nineteenth century legal theorist, suggests that property can be divided into two fundamental aspects: possession and title. Possession is the actual physical control of something, while title is the right to use and dispose of something even when not physically in possession. These two aspects of property are interrelated, as possession of an object confers a title to its owner, and the ownership of a thing creates a power to use it.
Different philosophers have developed different theories of property. John Locke believed that the property concept was founded on the idea of effort and scarcity. This meant that only if you put in the effort to acquire something, for example, clearing and cultivating virgin land, did it become your property. Others, such as Benjamin Tucker, preferred to focus on the telos of property – its purpose. He believed that property was designed to solve the problem of scarcity by allowing people to own and control things that they were in fact interested in.
Many people disagree with the concept of property. Various groups such as animal rights groups, abolitionists and communists believe that some types of property should not exist. They argue that it is wrong for individuals to own animals or humans, and that other things, such as the planet or rivers, should be shared by everyone on Earth.
There are several ways in which property can be lost. It can be forfeited to the state as a debt payment or to satisfy a court judgment or decree. It can also be lost by the law of prescription, in which case a person loses the property rights to an object after a certain period of time. Finally, it can be destroyed by an act of God or lost through theft or other illegal means.
It is important to distinguish between fair and market value when dealing with property. Fair value is the estimated amount a seller can expect to receive for an asset based on its condition, location and comparable sales in the area. Market value, on the other hand, is the actual amount that an asset will sell for. This is a result of factors such as the state of the economy, supply and demand and interest rates. In general, the market value is higher than the fair value.