The Property Registration Problem in the Anarcho-Capitalist Individualwealth[sic]


Yup, you guessed it, the title of this essay parodies “The Economic Calculation Problem in the Socialist Commonwealth” by Ludwig von Mises. The following text doesn’t attempt to address that particular work, but a comprehensive debunking of the ECP by socialist economist Robin Cox can be found here.

Briefly though… Ancaps love to misconstrue that the calculation problem is somehow applicable to stateless socialism, even though Mises was quite explicit that it wasn’t:

oops… a bit awkward that

As you can see from the quote above, this point is somewhat obscured by Mises insistence on referring to libertarian socialism as “workers’ capitalism”.

But enough of that! Our essay will instead establish why stateless capitalism could never be economically viable, and how attempts to make it so would dispel any notion of it being ‘anarchist’.

Background

The statist implementation of private property presently depends on control of cadastral maps and land registers, operating under state monopolies, and underpinned by state enforcement.

a cadastral map delineates private property

In the absence of the state, property rights would instead default to mutual respect and the natural desire for social harmony. This is termed “occupancy & use” or “possession property”, and is a fundamental tenet of anarchism. The rightful occupier/user is whomever is commonly recognised [see note 1] to occupy, possess, or use the asset in question. The onus being on establishing this by peaceful means, and not laying claim to assets that are commonly recognised to be occupied or used by someone else. Disputes can then be settled by negotiation, arbitration, or adjudication, rather than resorting to force.

occupancy & use depends on mutual respect

[NOTE 1: “commonly recognised” infers that property is not automatically deemed to be abandoned the instant an occupier/user is no longer present.]

Laissez- Faire Capitalism

The political theory known as minarchism proposes retaining a minimal state and its related security force (along with the necessary taxation), primarily for the purpose of upholding capitalist property rights. Anarcho-capitalism (ancap) is an economic ideology that takes this concept even further by seeking to marry the concept of a stateless society to those capitalist property rights.

ancaps are all about property rights

This would be straightforward where there’s an incumbent occupier or user (although if that person is not the owner but is instead a tenant/guard, then contractual terms would be prudent in order to deter them from assuming possession of the property, or vacating it without notice). Ancaps do however face another significant challenge in peacefully upholding their perceived right to absentee ownership.

Absenteeism

Issues would arise where a property was left vacant or unused, since it might not be recognised as having a rightful occupier/user.

others might peacefully claim property left vacant

In the case of an absentee landlord, it may well be that neighbouring occupiers are not in fact cognisant of the status of the property in question. They might assume that it’s been abandoned, may be unaware of the landlord’s identity, unwilling to get involved, or simply not prepared to lend assistance to someone they do not experience any meaningful social interaction with.

neighbours look out for one another

The presence of buildings, for rent signs, or passive security measures such as fences and private property notices are not reliable indicators of occupancy, and may degrade, collapse, or go missing due to erosion, natural ingress, or vandalism.

signage is only a deterrent when it appears to be current

Options

For ancaps to successfully implement capitalist property rights within a stateless society, they must either:

A. Convince anticapitalists to voluntarily adhere to capitalist property norms. OK… so what on earth would possess anticapitalists to voluntarily adhere to capitalism? We’re all ears…

B. Persuade anticapitalists to enshrine incontestable absentee ownership as a universal human right. Anticapitalists simply aren’t going to agree to enable capitalism. This outcome is so unlikely that it amounts to little more than fantasy.

C. Institute a central register of property owners. The likelihood of anticapitalists consenting to this is extremely remote, given that they flat out reject the concept of absentee ownership in the first place. Furthermore ancaps might even struggle to agree amongst themselves on how a centralised authority would be organised, controlled or funded.

D. Establish a network of private registrars who agree to share data. Since anticapitalists not only reject absenteeism but utterly detest private bureaucracy, it seems a bit of a stretch to assume that they would cheerfully participate in a private programme intended to facilitate land hoarding! Without their cooperation any register would lack legitimacy, rendering it utterly devoid of authority.

E. Resort to force to impose A, B, C, or D. This would of course establish that anarcho-capitalism is inherently authoritarian, and not anarchist.

good ideas don’t require force

Of course the obvious solution would be for ancaps to ditch private property rights for occupancy & use, which would appear to negate most of their concerns; provided that a property is occupied (even by a tenant or a guard) then nobody else could peacefully establish occupancy of it without the consent of said occupant.

The Problem

It’s therefore worth examining what motivates ancaps to insist on an incontestable right to absentee ownership of vacant property, when all they need do is install tenants or hire guards?

guards are an option

The problem is that much of the planet’s usable landmass is currently vacant but in private ownership. In the US some 59% of all land is in private ownership, most of it vacant, and this situation is upheld by the state. A vast army of tenants and/or guards would be needed to occupy that real estate, several orders of magnitude beyond those presently active in those respective markets.

stats for the US

The tenant/guard solution would therefore massively increase demand for both tenants and guards resulting in a chronic scarcity of both. Rental charges would plummet to the extent that landlords would be reduced to acting as social housing providers. It may even be that tenants could demand a wage, since they’d essentially be functioning as live-in security. And as for actual guards… well such high demand would push the market rate for those into the stratosphere. Ancaps would end up paying to hang onto property, rather than accumulating wealth from owning it, therein defeating their own economic objective. Ergo absenteeism simply isn’t cost effective without a tax funded state and cops to uphold it.

it can be expensive to uphold absenteeism

Even a blind monkey with a glass eye stuffed up its butt can see that stateless capitalism wouldn’t be feasible if landlords had to pay tenants to occupy/use their property. It appears most ancaps are of course fully cognisant of this problem, because why else would they be so shrill and insistent about absentee property rights and the NAP? Lets now examine what would transpire if their attempts to impose capitalist property rights were met with any sort of resistance…

Consequences

Where an absentee landlord is unable to maintain their own property rights, then a reasonable view would be “well tough shit – that person is no longer entitled to that property”.

boo hoo

Some ancaps dispute this, and shamelessly claim that any subsequent initiation of force against a peaceful occupier/user to retake the property would magically constitute self-defence by the absentee landlord. This is clearly delusional though since actual defence of property would never manifest as an assault on it!

but the NAP…

Other ancaps have suggested that a neat way around this issue would be to booby trap absentee property with sentry guns, landmines, incendiary devices, poison gas, Semtex… you name it!

nothing even slightly dystopian about this

Trespassers? No problem they’d be shot to pieces and/or blown to bits! Tenants refusing to pay their rent? Just release the poison gas! Strikers equipped with gas masks occupying the workplace? Well set the damn building alight, or as a last resort blow it all to smithereens! All of this is fully compliant with the NAP, since the other party initiated the aggression!

Conclusion

Absentee ownership on a large scale would be rendered economically non-viable in a stateless society. We’re then left with the disturbing scenario, whereby if ancaps were unable to peacefully impose their property norms, then they’d instead aim to replace government with a dystopian hellscape.

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