[Transcript of a speech delivered at the 2009 Mises University.]
At the beginning, I want to repeat a few points that I have made in my previous lecture on law and economics, and then I want to get to an entirely different subject than the one that I dealt with in that previous lecture.
Because there is a scarcity in the world, we can have conflicts regarding these scarce resources. And because conflicts can exist whenever and wherever there exists scarcity, we do need norms to regulate human life. Norms – the purpose of norms is to avoid conflicts. And in order to avoid conflicts regarding scarce resources, we need rules of exclusive ownership of such scarce resources or, to say exactly the same, we need property rights to determine who is entitled to control what and who is not entitled to control what.
These rules, I have defended in my previous lecture, the rules that Austrians regard as rules capable of doing this, avoiding conflict and, at the same time, being just rules are the following. One is every person owns himself, his own physical body. He has exclusive control over his own physical body. The second rule refers to, how do we acquire property, the right of exclusive control of scarce resources outside of our body in the external world. Previously – initially, the outside world is un-owned and we acquire property in objects outside of our body by being the first one to put certain resources to use and, thereby, we become the owner. This is also sometimes referred to as original appropriation or as homesteading. Rule number three and four are implied in the previous two. He who uses his physical body and those things that he originally appropriates in order to produce something, to transform things into a more valuable state of affairs, thereby, becomes the owner of what he has produced. Producer owns the product. And finally, we can also acquire property by a voluntary transfer from a previous owner to a later owner.
We again only emphasize in this lecture that there are intuitively sensible rules, who should own us unless – who should own us, except ourselves. Somebody else should own us sounds absurd. Should the second one be the owner who has done nothing to a resource, instead of the first one? Again, that sounds absurd. The producer does not own the product, but somebody who has not produced it should own the product? Again, that sounds absurd. And obviously, rule number four, if it would be possible to just to take something away from other people against their consent, civilization would be destroyed in a moment’s time.