Chapter 4: From Possession to Property: Preferences and the Role of Culture
Uta-Maria Niederle 1. INTRODUCTION Social relations are a complex matter, and property relations, in particular, are equally complex. This chapter considers changing complexity in property arrangements: from possessive behaviour towards objects that can be reached immediately, to abstract property relations about more or less tangible goods. In particular, it investigates the connection between property relations and human possessive dispositions, since, in virtually all societies, certain rights of ownership pertain to the basic rules of social order. Typically, economists become obscure when addressing the bases of property rights (Alchian 1994, p. 226). Even Hume (1896, p. 484) does not provide us with the full story of the evolution of property rights, though he admits that it is a gradual process and that the hypothetical contract in a state of nature is a ﬁction invented for the purpose of normative argument. This chapter tries to shed light on the origin of, and dynamic interplay between, the institutions of law and property and innate propensities towards possession. The special case of property rights is chosen because it is a basic economic institution serving a crucial function in the organization of production as well as the distribution of the products of every economy. This view presupposes a substantive interpretation of the economy (Polanyi 1957, 1977). That is, ‘ “economics” should be based upon the whole range of man’s material want satisfaction – his material wants, on the one hand, the means of satisfying his wants, be these material or not, on the other’ (Polanyi et al....
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