Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Frances Hutcheson Weighs In...

On the history of property. Stephen Buckle quotes a passage of his:

when once Men become so numerous, that the natural Product of the Earth is not sufficient for their Support, of Ease, or innocent Pleasure, a necessity arises, for the support of the increasing System, that such a Tenour of Conduct be observ'd, as shall most effectually promote Industry; and that Men abstain from all Actions which would have the contrary effect. (An Inquiry Concerning Beauty and Virtue)

Buckle claims this passage shows that industry forms as a response to scarcity, and further that self-love inhibits industry without well-defined property rights. Thus property rights come about as soon as scarcity does. I find this history to be very compelling, but clearly it isn't complete, because writers after Hutcheson have tried to modify his theory. So I ask: what is missing from this brief history of property rights?

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Compared with the totality of knowledge which is continually utilized in the evolution of a dynamic civilization, the difference between the knowledge that the wisest and that which the most ignorant individual can deliberately employ is comparatively insignificant. ~Fredrich Hayek in The Constitution of Liberty