Intellectual Property : Scarcity and Conflict

Scarcity Justification

The "scarcity theory of property" only explains a single incentive (one of many) for an individual to pursue exclusive ownership. Scarcity theory does not describe how ownership arises, nor does scarcity theory describe who is the owner of anything. Scarcity-theory does not explain self-ownership; the scarcity of your mind/body in no way logically implies an specific owner.

Other property theories, such as self-ownership, offer the historical and ideological basis of much of Libertarian/Voluntarist thought, property theory, and criminal theory. The only justification scarcity-theory gives is reduced conflict (i.e. Hoppe), but even that is only theoretical justification, and ignores far more important considerations in human interactions (i.e. whether a human relationship is desirable or mutually beneficial) and wealth production (how is wealth made).

Conflict Reduction Justification

An number of scarcity-theorists take this one step further, claiming the only theoretical justification for property is scarcity, justified by conflict reduction. This leads to "conflict reduction" as the core value, and scarcity-theory as an extension of that.

Conflict reduction by itself is a narrow-minded utilitarian perspective, which ignores ethics, relationships, economics, self-ownership, and human well-being. If an immoral or destructive act X (slavery, theft, rape, violence, fraud, the state, etc) resulted in reduced conflict (utilitarian), then X would be justified on the basis of reduced-conflict as core ethic. Just as the value of any object varies from one human to the next, conflict-reduction is not the sole or supperior human value.

Scarcity is Property (?)

Scarcity does not imply something is owned or property, nor does it imply that it should or must be property, and nor does it imply a specific owner (i.e. a rare diamond on the bottom of the ocean).

Singular Justification?

Resolving conflict may present a singular (one of many) justification for property, however one must recognize that conflict-resolution is one of the utilities of property. Conflict resolution, however, is not the sole underlying justification, purpose or definition of property.

By claiming conflict-resolution is the only (or superior) justification for property, one necessarily does so at the expense of all other utility and justification for property. Value differs greatly from one individual to the next; claiming any singular value to be the sole and superior value to all others is a very bold narrow-minded claim.

Conflict Reduction vs Resolution

It is also important to note that conflict resolution and conflict reduction are similar, but distinct concepts. Conflict-reduction implies a net reduction of disagreements between persons, whereas the primary purpose of (libertarian) conflict-resolution is to promote mutually beneficial human interactions.

Argument from Left-Field

Claims that X is not scarce, therefore not property is arbitrary. Outside of the discussion of I.P., scarcity is rarely used as a justification for property. The original scarcity argument (Hoppe) provides practical-support for allowing ownership of scarce resources, against the protests of socialists complaining about monopolization. Only as a result of a recent push to abolish I.P. by libertarians has this concept been transformed from mere support, and into a core justification.

Ownership of non-scarce resources, such as rocks or air, has never presented a problem for Libertarians, and only slightly objectionable to socialists. A lack of scarcity typically reduces conflict, while scarcity tends to increase property claims and conflict. This demonstrates a correlation or relationship between scarcity, conflict, and property, but not a justification.

Ownership and exclusion become most necessary and problematic when scarce resources are monopolized. Few problems have ever arisen over a persons desire to own a few cubic meters of air, a few rocks, or salt water in the middle of the ocean. Examined in reverse, conflict over exclusion from property suggests (i.e. a symptom or result) scarcity exists.

No Conflict, No Property Fallacy


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