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All the pages on this site derive from the word property:

This page will argue that economic property is a form of scientific property and can be measured in the same way.

scientific properties

"In modern philosophy, logic and mathematics, a property is an attribute (characteristic) of an object; a red object is said to have the property of redness. The property may be considered a form of object in its own right, able to possess other properties. A property however differs from individual objects in that it may be instantiated, and often in more than one thing. It differs from the logical/mathematical concept of class by not having any concept of extensionality, and from the philosophical concept of class in that a property is considered to be distinct from the objects which possess it. Understanding how different individual entities (or particulars) can in some sense have some of the same properties is the basis of the problem of universals. The terms attribute and quality have similar meanings." (source)

how to measure properties

To measure the properties of a thing, see what is different when the thing is not there. In science we experiment: we try something, compare it to a control group, and measure the difference.

economic property

Property in economics is usually very poorly defined. It usually means "whatever the law says" but the law is whatever the government says it is. For example, a person owns his property... until the government decides that he does not.

Property laws exist to provide certainty. They allow us to plan for the future. But a law that can be changed at any time, or that cannot be predicted until it is tested in court, provides no certainty. What then is the basis for property law? Let us ask the philosophers.

the philosophers

All the most influential philosophers discussed property. Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Hegel, Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Kant, Marx, Mill, etc. all wrote on it in detail. For a summary of their views see the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on property and ownership.

In short, they all agree that economic property laws are measured by their benefit to society. So correct laws of ownership are those that create the most benefit to society.

rent seeking

Some forms of legal ownership do not contribute to the overall wealth of society. For example, rent seeking:

The expression rent-seeking was coined in 1974 by Anne Krueger. The word "rent" does not refer here to payment on a lease but stems instead from Adam Smith's division of incomes into profit, wage, and rent. The origin of the term refers to gaining control of land or other natural resources.

Georgist economic theory describes rent-seeking in terms of land rent, where the value of land largely comes from government infrastructure and services (e.g. roads, public schools, maintenance of peace and order, etc.) and the community in general, rather than from the actions of any given landowner, in their role as mere titleholder. This role must be separated from the role of a property developer, which need not be the same person, and often is not.

Rent-seeking is an attempt to obtain economic rent, (i.e., the portion of income paid to a factor of production in excess of that which is needed to keep it employed in its current use), by manipulating the social or political environment in which economic activities occur, rather than by creating new wealth. Rent-seeking implies extraction of uncompensated value from others without making any contribution to productivity.

In many market-driven economies, much of the competition for rents is legal, regardless of harm it may do to an economy. However, some rent-seeking competition is illegal - such as bribery, corruption, smuggling, and even black market deals.

Rent-seeking is distinguished in theory from profit-seeking, in which entities seek to extract value by engaging in mutually beneficial transactions.[3] Profit-seeking in this sense is the creation of wealth, while rent-seeking is the use of social institutions such as the power of government to redistribute wealth among different groups without creating new wealth.[4] In a practical context, income obtained through rent-seeking may of course contribute to profits in the standard, accounting sense of the word.   (source)


According to the philosophers, actions that do not contribute to wealth cannot be justified as part of property laws. In science we experiment: we try something, compare it to a control group, and measure the difference. It follows that property can only be what a person or entity creates. It then follows that property can be measured by measuring what a person creates.


So property can be measured objectively, by asking "what is different because that person exists?" Economic property is therefore a property in the scientific sense and is not some special case.

other points to note


To declare overnight that all wasteful activities are not property would lead to the breakdown of society and an even greater destruction of wealth. Hence few philosophers would advocate an immediate move to chaos. But existing property rules only justified insofar as they are temporary steps on the road to laws that favour wealth creation.


Trade also creates wealth: by moving goods to people who can use them more efficiently there is a net increase in wealth. This can quickly make property very complicated: a particular product might have a hundred contributors, many of them intangible such as financial guarantees.

This does not invalidate the measurability of property. It just means that trade is a complex system. Many other physical systems are highly complex, such as the weather or human genes, and the skill of a scientist is in isolating the influence of each part.

market failure

The complexity of the system means it is easy to make inefficient choices, either deliberately or by accident. The principle enemies of efficiency (the forces that undermine any claim to property) are called market failure. In brief, choice is made more difficult in three ways:

  1. Hiding information (either through secrecy or complexity)
  2. Externalities: where person A makes a choice, but person B (an external person) is forced to pay the price. Taxation is the clearest example.
  3. Limiting choice in other ways (e.g. you can only choose your government if a majority agrees, based on particular borders, subject to other rules, and only once every four years)

enormous rewards

Most people do not understand compound growth. They do not realise that a one percent increase in efficiency would make their children twice as wealthy as otherwise. Consider all the many ways that our systems are inefficient and the potential is staggering.


Sovereignty is a form of economic property: therefore control over land can only be justified based on the benefits created. Appealing to any other basis (tradition, previous written laws etc.) has no validity, other than to avoid chaos while moving to a better (and stable) system.

left and right wing politics

This complexity leads to the different views of the left and right in politics.

As Hayek pointed out in "The Road To Serfdom", an economy is so complex that the cost of measuring something is often greater than the benefit of measuring it. Therefore top down control is doomed to fail. People who emphasise this tend to oppose centralisation (except as it arises naturally from the market) and are called right wing.

Meanwhile, as any casual observer will note, much of the actual productive work is carried out by the poorest workers, whereas a person can grow very rich through rent seeking. People who emphasise this tend to measure a society's economic health by its equality and are called left wing.

Land rent solves both problems. By charging rent for idle land the biggest inequalities are ended, while letting the market allocate resources more efficiently than under any tax based system.

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