Abundance Journal/Abundance Vol I, Issue 3

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Since the theory of value is such a mess, it is no wonder the notion of property is confused as well. Proudhon famously declared that property is theft, distinguishing the concept of possession (occupancy and use of land/means of production but no absentee ownership). Following this line, I think the phrase Property is Use gets at the core idea behind property rights—these rights to use a resource come with a responsibility to act as a steward and to use the resource in actual production. Seen in this light, the idea of Intellectual Property (a term that collapses distinct legal regimes of copyright, trademark, and patent, and should never have been adopted) is revealed to be rubbish. So called, "IP" is not property at all, but merely a negative right to exclude. At least with copyright, the author nominally owns his own words/expression, but even here artists have been sued for copying themselves!! See the case of John Fogerty—being sued by his record company for being too similar to himself in the song Run Through the Jungle! Even more harmful than copyright, today's patent system is a total failure as a property system—it benefits neither the public, nor inventors—serving only lawyers and corporations who can amass the largest portfolio. A patent is not a right to do anything—2 parties may find themselves at a standoff with neither able to practice an invention because of overlapping blocking claims. Boundaries are impossible to determine, leading to endless, costly litigation. Worst of all, independent invention is no defense, so I might happen upon my own solution to a problem only to be blocked by an existing patent owner or a troll who never had any intention of practicing the invention. Even if my approach is different, the doctrine of equivalents still allows the existing patent to block me.

A unified theory of property for both physical and intellectual resources is possible if we return to the central idea of use.

Patrick Anderson's User-Owner Theory is ideal for this issue. Also see Chris Cook's Open Capitalist Project, which promotes the idea of trusts (see Islamic finance) as a solution to a debt-based system of mortgage-slavery.

The Commons is also a critical idea. Space as Commons is a theme worth exploring, perhaps in its own issue. Space is the ultimate Commons, and following the frontier gold rush model by staking claims on the moon, etc, might not be in humanity's best interests, no matter how rich it makes the lucky first mover entrepreneurs. Today, the baby field of private space entrepreneurship is an exclusive billionaire's club. Leading advocates espouse a sort of hyper-capitalist rhetoric that seems grossly out of touch with the most recent events. Our property system on earth can hardly be said to have been a success; transposing it to the heavens will surely have a hellish result. It might be time to rethink that Asteroid Mining business plan you just submitted at the last invite only Space Cadet Summit.