Who owns your stuff?
If you buy a big piece of land with a giant mountain, or with a beautiful historic grove of rare trees, can you deface the mountain or destroy the grove at will? Can you, if you believe you can make money by building a resort on the mountain or placing a shopping center where the historic trees are, go and do that with no regard for the community around you?
The answer is no. And this is a big NO not a small no. You cannot do that because that is fundamentally, philosophically, ethically wrong, not simply because the government says you cannot. If you own land that has a river or creek running through it, you cannot dam it up without consideration for the other people who might be affected. The reason you cannot is not because of governmental laws, the reason is because no one owns the Earth and its resources, not even you.
- No one owns the Earth.
- No one owns the minerals that make up the Earth.
- No one has exclusive rights to anything that comes from the Earth.
This is an extremely important concept. I believe it is obvious when you think about it, but maybe not to everyone.
So what do you own? What do you get when you buy something? What can you do with that mountain, or those trees, or that creek? If you don’t own them, who does?
No one does. You don’t, the community does not, and the government does not. No one owns the Earth or its resources. We do have the right to use the Earth and its resources. Just as there is no naturally occurring law which says ownership is first come first served or signing a contract gives someone absolute rights over a resource–just as that does not exist–there also does not exist a natural law saying we cannot use the Earth to better our lives.
So what does it come down to?
Although not perfect, capitalism works. It works better than other economic systems at allocating materials. Also, the concept of private property has also worked for us for the most part, but that concept is also not perfect. When people start believing private property is absolute, society starts to break down because of conflicts.
The solution is to understand that private property is not really private nor property, at least not as those terms are commonly thought of. Private property is a lease of sort. You are given rights, by everyone one else in your society, to use in a reasonable way the resources you found or bought. You cannot -nilly dam that creek to make your own lake at everyone else’s expense. But you can use some of the water to water your yard or make a small pond. Everything else requires community approval which comes through the government.
So how many rights do you have to your stuff? That is determined by the community through your government. I’ll admit, sometimes seems the government is trying to own or control everything. But if you live in a free society with a truly elected government, then in truth society is doing the controlling and owning.
So in summation, no owns anything when you get right down to the fundamentals of nature and how the universe works. Everyone has as much of a right to everything as everyone else does. But as a society, to make everything work efficiently and to prevent conflict, we can create laws and rules on how resources will be allocated.
Let me add one more important point. It might be true you do not have absolute and exclusive rights to any of your stuff, but you do have just as much right to what you own as anyone else. And if you found it first or if you paid for it or it was given to you, then you do have what can be called a fair-use right to those items.
This fair-use right to use your stuff in a reasonable way is what you own.
The sun is pure communism everywhere except in cities, where it’s private property. -Malcolm De Chazal, writer and painter (1902-1981)