On Property Theory

life-cycleA theory of property needs to give an account of the whole life-cycle of a property right: how it is initiated, transferred, and terminated.  Economics has focused on the transfers in the market and has almost completely neglected the question of the initiation and termination of property in normal production and consumption (not in some original state or in the transition from common to private property).  The institutional mechanism for the normal initiation and termination of property is an invisible-hand function of the market, the market mechanism of appropriation.  Does this mechanism satisfy an appropriate normative principle?  The standard normative juridical principle is to assign or impute legal responsibility according to de facto responsibility.  It is given a historical tag of being “Lockean” but the basis is contemporary jurisprudence, not historical exegesis.  Then the fundamental theorem of the property mechanism is proven which shows that if “Hume’s conditions” (no transfers without consent and all contracts fulfilled) are satisfied, then the market automatically satisfies the Lockean responsibility principle, i.e., “Hume implies Locke.”  As a major application, the results in their contrapositive form, “Not Locke implies Not Hume,” are applied to a market economy based on the employment contract.  It is shown the production based on the employment contract violates the Lockean principle (all who work in an employment enterprise are de facto responsible for the positive and negative results) and thus Hume’s conditions must also be violated in the marketplace (de facto responsible human action cannot be transferred from one person to another—as is readily recognized when and employer and employee together commit a crime).

This paper is from the Journal of Economic Issues (Sept. 2014)


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