The Property Registration Problem in the Anarcho-Capitalist Individualwealth

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.

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

This snippet is somewhat obscured by Mises insistence on referring to libertarian socialism as “workers’ capitalism”.

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.]

Stateless Capitalism

The political theory of 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. Stateless capitalism is a laissez-faire economic ideology that desires to take this a stage further by seeking to marry the concept of a stateless society to those same capitalist property rights. Those who advocate this proclaim themselves to be ancaps (anarcho-capitalists).

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 a 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 abandonment status of the property in question. They may also 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 current

Options

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

A. Somehow convince other anarchists to voluntarily adhere to capitalist property norms… perhaps a tad optimistic in a society that has purposefully abolished rulership.

B. Persuade other anarchists to enshrine incontestable absentee ownership as a universal human right, an outcome so unlikely that it amounts to little more than fantasy.

C. Institute a central register of property owners. This simply isn’t achievable, given that other anarchists flat out reject the concept of absenteeism to start with. Furthermore ancaps might even struggle to agree amongst themselves on how such an authority would be organised, controlled or funded.

D. Establish a network of private registrars who agree to share data. Such an initiative is doomed to fail since other anarchists would refuse to cooperate, let alone willingly submit themselves to any such authority.

E. Resort to force to impose A, B, C, or D… thus rendering anarcho-capitalism 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 a property is occupied (even by a tenant or a guard) then nobody else can peacefully establish occupancy of it without the consent of that 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 to do is install tenants or hire guards?

guards are an option

The problem is that much of the planet’s usable landmass is presently 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 it, 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 therefore end up paying to own 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 isn’t feasible if landlords have to pay tenants to occupy/use their property. 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

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

but the NAP…

Conclusion

Absentee ownership on a large scale would not be economically 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 attempt to do so by force, thus infringing upon the autonomy of everyone else even though that meant breaching their own non-aggression principle.