Academic journal article The Journal of Philosophical Economics

Expiration of Private Property Rights: A Note

Academic journal article The Journal of Philosophical Economics

Expiration of Private Property Rights: A Note

Article excerpt


In this essay we will assume, [1] arguendo if need be, that private property rights properly come into existence based on homesteading (Bylund 2012; Hoppe 1993, 2011; Kinsella 2003, 2006; Locke 1948; Rothbard 1973; Rozeff 2005). We also accept without question or analysis how titles to land or goods may be licitly transferred from one person to another: through any voluntary process, such as sale, barter, gambling, gifts, etc. (Nozick 1974). The only thing precluded would be violations of the non-aggression principle (NAP). We will here focus attention not on how such rights come into being and/or are relocated amongst people, but on how they may be legitimately extinguished over above and against the will of the owner. This paper is predicated upon libertarianism; it is an attempt to understand how this philosophical tradition would deal with the present challenge.


One obvious way to extinguish property rights [2] is by abandonment. If a man relinquishes title to his holdings, that is it for him and them. They now pass once again into non-ownership as they were before being homesteaded, either by this person or the previous owner(s). And, in this state they are available to the first man who comes along and homesteads them on his own account. This is rather non-controversial. No reasonable person would force people to keep their erstwhile property against their will, and no libertarian would object to the ownership of them by the next man who comes along and homesteads them. There are those, however, who favor laws prohibiting owners of firms from relinquishing title in them. They do so in support of labor union members who wish to continue to act the role of a tapeworm against these companies. [3]

Precisely in what does such relinquishing consist? Is it through a declarative and legally binding act ('I hereby relinquish my holdings to ...' which has to be witnessed or such like? Yes, that would certainly suffice. Or may one's acts (or, more likely, omissions) be taken as signs of relinquishment? If one, for instance, allows a building to fall into disrepair and makes no efforts (despite warnings from others - although which others would have to be specified) to rectify this, has one relinquished one's title? Yes, that, too, would constitute a relinquishment. However, we can add, here, 'not so fast.' If that building falls apart and physically harms other persons, the owner, or, rather, the previous owner, would still be fully responsible for the damage, even though he had severed connections with the edifice.

And after how long may one be deemed to have relinquished the title? We deal with this issue below, when we consider the boat example.


B steals a car from A. According to libertarian punishment theory, at the very least, in addition to compelling B to return this automobile to A, the same thing must be done to B as he did to A. Namely, B must be forced to give to A a vehicle of his own, or if he does not have one of comparable value, then the monetary equivalent thereof. That is to say, it is entirely appropriate to end the criminal's right to some property of his own. Given that the death penalty for murder is justified (Block 2003A, 2003B, 2003C, 2006A, 2006B, 2006C; Rothbard 2010; Whitehead and Block 2003), not only may the criminal forfeit physical property, he would be called upon to give up title to the most important piece of private property he owns, namely that to his own person. We conclude that the property rights of murderers and thieves may be justifiably taken from them. For this philosophy, property rights are indeed sacrosanct. But not so much that they may not be taken away from criminals, as part of their punishment. Take the case of slavery as an example. What should have happened in 1865 in the U.S. is that slavery should have been considered as a crime; no ex post facto excuse should have been accepted. These owners were guilty of kidnapping. …

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