The fundamental economic concept is property. First let's define "property" in its most generic sense. This necessitates stepping back and asking, "What is the purpose of property?" Why have it at all? The answer to this is obvious after due deliberation: The purpose of property is to solve the scarcity problem. The scarcity problem is that humans desire more than they can gain or consume. Put another way: Man has unlimited wants and desires, but only limited goods and services are available.
"The science of mine and thine - the science of justice - is the science of all human rights; of all a man's rights of person and property; of all his rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." - Lysander Spooner, Natural LawWe use "scarcity" in the economic sense. In particular, something cannot be scarce without it necessitating exclusivity in use. You and I cannot both use my hammer at the same time, but we can both read "Huckleberry Finn" at the same time, or use Microsoft Excel at the same time. Thus the hammer, being scarce, is property, but the novel qua string of letters and the software qua string of bytes are not property. Intellectual property does not qualify as property under this scheme, since it does not satisfy the exclusive use condition. Some very common things may not be scarce simply because there's so much (given current demand.) The outdoor air we breath is not scarce. Neither was land in the hunter-gatherer epoch, when man had about the same population density as bears.
This is a rather tolerant and encompassing definition of property. It includes tribal communal property, worker-owned factories, geoist ground-rent, and absolute private property. The "socially recognized relationship" leaves the conventions and particulars spectacularly open-ended. Everyone from Rockerian communist to Randian capitalist should be on board so far.
It would be nice to detect a pattern or find a model for some of the known property systems. Even better, if we could only measure them using some commonality. One idea is to use a well-recognized system of property as a guideline or standard, and measure the "distance" from the standard system to the other system. Luckily, from both logic and history we can find our benchmark - Neo-Lockean private property, that is, the traditional "use and abuse" absolute jurisdiction keep it 'till you trade it property associated with "capitalism." I will call it "sticky property" here, to avoid ambiguities and unfortunate connotations. European anarchism from Proudhon on has been largely a critique of sticky property. So whether you are friend or foe of sticky property, you will recognize the concept.
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