In the abstract, property is that which belongs to or with something, whether as an attribute or as a component of said thing. In the context of this article, property is one or more components (rather than attributes), whether physical or incorporeal, of a person's estate; or so belonging to, as in being owned by, a person or jointly a group of people or a legal entity like a corporation or even a society. (Given such meaning, the word property is uncountable, and as such, is not described with an indefinite article or as plural.) Depending on the nature of the property, an owner of property has the right to consume, alter, share, redefine, rent, mortgage, pawn, sell, exchange, transfer, give away or destroy it, or to exclude others from doing these things, as well as to perhaps abandon it; whereas regardless of the nature of the property, the owner thereof has the right to properly use it (as a durable, mean or factor, or whatever), or at the very least exclusively keep it.
In economics and political economy, there are three broad forms of property: private property, public property, and collective property (also called cooperative property).
Property that jointly belongs to more than one party may be possessed or controlled thereby in very similar or very distinct ways, whether simply or complexly, whether equally or unequally. However, there is an expectation that each party's will (rather discretion) with regard to the property be clearly defined and unconditional, so as to distinguish ownership and easement from rent. The parties might expect their wills to be unanimous, or alternately every given one of them, when no opportunity for or possibility of dispute with any other of them exists, may expect his, her, its or their own will to be sufficient and absolute.
The Restatement (First) of Property defines property as anything, tangible or intangible whereby a legal relationship between persons and the state enforces a possessory interest or legal title in that thing. This mediating relationship between individual, property and state is called a property regime.〔(Pellissery, Sony and Dey Biswas, Sattwick (2012) Emerging Property Regimes In India: What It Holds For the Future of Socio-Economic Rights? IRMA Working Paper 234 )〕
In sociology and anthropology, property is often defined as a relationship between two or more individuals and an object, in which at least one of these individuals holds a bundle of rights over the object. The distinction between "collective property" and "private property" is regarded as a confusion since different individuals often hold differing rights over a single object.〔Graeber, New York: Palgrave (2001) Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of Our Own Dreams. ISBN 978-0-312-24044-8 "... one might argue that property is a social relation as well, reified in exactly the same way: when one buys a car one is not really purchasing the right to use it so much as the right to prevent others from using it-or, to be even more precise, one is purchasing their recognition that one has the right to do so. But since it is so diffuse a social relation- a contract, in effect, between the owner and everyone else in the entire world-it is easy to think of it as a thing..."(pg.9)〕〔Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Property in Anthropology, http://www.eth.mpg.de/cms/en/research/d2/completed/property/moreinfo/〕
Important widely recognized types of property include real property (the combination of land and any improvements to or on the land), personal property (physical possessions belonging to a person), private property (property owned by legal persons, business entities or individual natural persons), public property (state owned or publicly owned and available possessions) and intellectual property (exclusive rights over artistic creations, inventions, etc.), although the latter is not always as widely recognized or enforced.〔Anti-copyright advocates and other critics of intellectual property dispute the concept of intellectual property.().〕 An article of property may have physical and incorporeal parts. A title, or a right of ownership, establishes the relation between the property and other persons, assuring the owner the right to dispose of the property as the owner sees fit.
Often property is defined by the code of the local sovereignty, and protected wholly or more usually partially by such entity, the owner being responsible for any remainder of protection. The standards of proof concerning proofs of ownerships are also addressed by the code of the local sovereignty, and such entity plays a role accordingly, typically somewhat managerial. Some philosophers assert that property rights arise from social convention, while others find justifications for them in morality or in natural law.
Property, in the first instance, is a thing-in-itself. When a person finds a thing and takes that thing into that person's possession and control, then that thing becomes a thing-for-you for that person. Once the person has that thing in that person's possession, that thing becomes that person's property by reason of discovery and conquest, and that person has the individual right to defend that property (property interest) against all others by reason of self-help. Typically, persons join together to form a political state which may develop a formal legal system which enforces and protects property rights so that the individual can go to court to get protection and enforcement of that person's property rights, rather than having to use self-help. It is possible that when a person has constructive possession of personal property, but another person has actual possession, then the person having constructive possession has bare legal title, while the other person has actual possession. Generally, the ground and any buildings which are permanently attached are considered real property, while movable goods and intangibles such as a copyright are considered personal property. Also, property cannot be considered a reified concept, because in the first instance, property is very concrete as a physical thing-in-itself.
Various scholarly disciplines (such as law, economics, anthropology or sociology) may treat the concept more systematically, but definitions vary, most particularly when involving contracts. Positive law defines such rights, and the judiciary can adjudicate and enforce property rights.
According to Adam Smith, the expectation of profit from "improving one's stock of capital" rests on private property rights.〔
〕 Capitalism has as a central assumption that property rights encourage their holders to develop the property, generate wealth, and efficiently allocate resources based on the operation of markets. From this has evolved the modern conception of property as a right enforced by positive law, in the expectation that this will produce more wealth and better standards of living. However, Smith also expressed a very critical view on the effects of property laws on inequality:
:: "Wherever there is great property, there is great inequality … Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all."〔
〕 (Adam Smith, ''Wealth of Nations'')
In his text ''The Common Law'', Oliver Wendell Holmes describes property as having two fundamental aspects. The first, possession, can be defined as control over a resource based on the practical inability of another to contradict the ends of the possessor. The second, title, is the expectation that others will recognize rights to control resource, even when it is not in possession. He elaborates the differences between these two concepts, and proposes a history of how they came to be attached to persons, as opposed to families or to entities such as the church.
* Classical liberalism subscribes to the labor theory of property. They hold that individuals each own their own life, it follows that one must own the products of that life, and that those products can be traded in free exchange with others.
:: "Every man has a property in his own person. This nobody has a right to, but himself." (John Locke, ''Second Treatise on Civil Government'')
:: "The reason why men enter into society is the preservation of their property." (John Locke, ''Second Treatise on Civil Government'')
:: "Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place." (Frédéric Bastiat, ''The Law'')
* Conservatism subscribes to the concept that freedom and property are closely linked. That the more widespread the possession of private property, the more stable and productive is a state or nation. Economic leveling of property, conservatives maintain, especially of the forced kind, is not economic progress.
:: "Separate property from private possession, and Leviathan becomes master of all... Upon the foundation of private property, great civilizations are built... The conservative acknowledges that the possession of property fixes certain duties upon the possessor; he accepts those moral and legal obligations cheerfully." (Russell Kirk, ''The Politics of Prudence'')
*Socialism's fundamental principles center on a critique of this concept, stating (among other things) that the cost of defending property exceeds the returns from private-property ownership, and that, even when property rights encourage their holders to develop their property or generate wealth, they do so only for their own benefit, which may not coincide with benefit to other people or to society at large.
*Libertarian socialism generally accepts property rights, but with a short abandonment period. In other words, a person must make (more-or-less) continuous use of the item or else lose ownership rights. This is usually referred to as "possession property" or "usufruct". Thus, in this usufruct system, absentee ownership is illegitimate and workers own the machines or other equipment that they work with.
*Communism argues that only collective ownership of the means of production through a polity (though not necessarily a state) will assure the minimization of unequal or unjust outcomes and the maximization of benefits, and that therefore humans should abolish private ownership of capital (as opposed to property).
Both communism and some kinds of socialism have also upheld the notion that private ownership of capital is inherently illegitimate. This argument centers mainly on the idea that private ownership of capital always benefits one class over another, giving rise to domination through the use of this privately owned capital. Communists do not oppose personal property that is "hard-won, self-acquired, self-earned" (as the Communist Manifesto puts it) by members of the proletariat. Both socialism and communism distinguish carefully between private ownership of capital (land, factories, resources, etc.) and private property (homes, material objects and so forth).
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