“Property law violates the basic rule that you may not act upon the bodies of others without their consent. A property right is not a right over a piece of the world, but a right over other human beings: a right to physically restrain and interfere with their bodies. Without property law, people are free to move about the world as they please, avail themselves of any material resources they find around them, and so on. But with property law, people find themselves dramatically restricted. Should you move about the world as you please, you will find your body acted upon without your consent.”
While I don’t advocate for a world like this, if I had to choose between a Grab World or the hyper-libertarian/anarcho-capitalist idea that private property is absolute and whoever owns it can do literally whatever they want with it, no matter how it affects other people, I would take the Grab World every time. Of course, I believe the world, and our society, are more complex than either of these, and we need to find a reasonable way to balance the world so that people can have rights over their bodies and rights over their property. But my starting point is that people have rights over themselves and their bodies first, and property rights are secondary.
Of course, everyone who knows me knows I’m a bleeding heart liberal, and I’m happy to jack up taxes on the wealthy to pay for government services such as single payer health care, government funded public university, even universal basic income (I recognize this last one is a very hard sell right now, but I think it would be effective in fixing innumerable economic issues and eradicating poverty.) I don’t even care if these systems are abused by people who don’t need them, as long as they are filling a need for people who do need them, the abuse is incidental and worth the price to ensure people with the least power in our society are getting their needs met. In fact, I would argue that creating these government systems increases bodily autonomy, as people could pursue the path in life that they wish without worrying so much about all of the things that currently tie them to unfulfilling low wage jobs just to get by and get the rent paid.
However, what this Grab World philosophy helps illustrate in my mind is a difficult dichotomy to explain; how do we define freedom? Is it freedom of property? Is is bodily autonomy? And who, if anyone, enforces these rights? To me, bodily autonomy comes first, and property rights come second, though of course in our society we do allow certain property rights to trump certain rights that come with bodily autonomy.
I think this is okay, even necessary in an ideal society, but I think it’s important we prioritize bodily autonomy first, then make reasonable concessions to allow for private property to exist in a reasonable way in a world where we are free to move about as we please and do as we please so long as we aren’t causing harm to others. I think so long as we have large ranging public spaces, for instance, it’s okay to have private property where owners can have their own space and tell others to keep out. But it would not be okay for all land to be private land, where people were restricted only to their own land, if they had any at all, unless they could negotiate with landholders for the “right” to move through their property to get from point A to point B in the world. At the point a world exists where you can be imprisoned within a box of private property, private property has gone too far.
And of course, I believe government should exist to enforce these rights. I think that it should always be done with as little force and restriction of freedom as possible, and we can work on doing better about that than we do in our currently extant world, but there is a role for government to enforce rights as an independent, ideally unbiased, arbitrator.
This really hit on the concept I needed to express the issue I have with extreme private property though. It’s really hard to argue against private property, because I have possessions and property that I value, things I don’t want stolen. However, I value bodily autonomy, the freedom to move about, do things, and experience things, far, far more than I value private property.