On a Saturday morning, when my brain should be occupied by strategy for my kid’s soccer game or by the prospect of college football, I find myself wrestling with the idea that our notions of property are so deeply embedded in our culture, we don’t have a good vocabulary for discussing the underlying assumptions of property; particularly in the context of a policy debate. That can’t be normal.
I don’t have any good answers at the moment, and I’ve almost certainly covered this ground before. But, advocates of the property status quo can just say, “I think people ought to be able to keep what’s theirs.” It’s simple and sounds utterly reasonable; almost unassailable.
To contest this, someone who thinks that more equity is necessary to preserve the health of our political and economic systems has to spend a great deal of time and a great number of words deconstructing the word “theirs”; making arguments about when property rights vest in a person such that the thing can be said to be “theirs,” that property rights do not exist in any enforceable sense absent the cooperation of the government, and suggesting that the point at which rights vest is, itself, a policy choice and mostly arbitrary.
If you have to spend that much effort and verbiage countering a simple sentence, chances are, you’re going to lose the debate unless the listener is uncommonly patient and open minded.
Anyway, that’s what I woke up thinking about. Maybe I need a hobby.