benkler

Left, Right and Centre: Property is Misunderstood

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This brief reflection on the nature of property was spawned by a misleading statement about the political persuasion of Lawrence Lessig et al. by http://techliberation.com.

If, as it is claimed “they set the intellectual agenda for the Left on information technology policy“, then there is no left.

Lessig et al. are liberals and right of centre in any sensible political analysis. Last time I checked one of the main points of leftist politics was a critique of the ownership of the means of production in the tangible realm and a clear rejection of the predominance of exclusive private property in that context.

Lessig, however, has stated repeatedly that he sees no problem with the conventional liberal understanding of exclusive private property as the best way to organise the tangible realm. This position of his has been brought out in debate with the far right people – or property fundamentalists (like Epstein) – who believe that exclusive private property should also rule in the intangible realm.

Benkler remains “suspicious” of accounts that use the term property, which is not quite the same as accepting exclusive private property in the tangible realm, but it is a clear rejection of property as a protocol for social organisation of the intangible realm.

They essentially reject “property in general” on the basis of a very “particular form of property”, namely exclusive, private property (in the tangible realm) with a collocation of exclusionary and exchange rights. That is a pretty much the same as saying that I am suspicious of Italy, because I once had a bad experience in Rome airport, while in transfer. You cannot simply reject something in general on the basis of a very particular instance. One piece of software might be bad, like Windows, but could I sensibly reject a GNU/Linux system on that basis (without sounding like I had no clue)?

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