My post on "Ecological Suicide" (soon to be a popular series) drew a comment from Alberich, who thought that everything would be dandy:
If we can maintain our property rights or god-forbid make them more robust, we will be fine.

I wasn't too impressed by his single factor analysis - after all, if the bluebird of happiness *does* fly up your nose, you *will be* ecstatic - but decided to deal with the question anyway - so Mr. A, if you have a case to make, here is your chance to be on topic.

As it happens, Jared Diamond does mention the question of property rights in his discussion of Tokugawa Japan's successfull effort to deal with its own deforestation crisis. He argues that the isolation and political stability of Japan meant that Shogun, daimyo, and peasant could all expect not only to control their lands during their lifetimes, but pass it on to their children. This fact gave them an incentive to practice siliculture and other conservation measures that could only provide benefits many years or even decades later. Conversely, the instability of Maya, Rwandan, and Haitian societies made any such expections impossible, and may well have contributed to their respective collapses.

Studies of societies of humans (or East African Plains Apes) and our close relatives, the chimpanzees, show that the notion of possession and property is firmly embedded in our instinctive behavior. One of the reasons socialism doesn't work is its tendency to ignore this instinct.

For primitive man, the hunter gatherers whose brains we inherited, property is limited to what one can take along - family and a few tools. Once agriculture was developed, land became the cardinal element of property. The productivity of agriculture, and the storable food it produces, permits and requires organization into larger political entities which Diamond calls Tribes, Chiefdoms, and Nations. These political entities become the guaranters of property rights and the means for an elite to acquire and maintain the lion's share of the property.

Political entities typically put some restrictions on property rights. For example, we don't permit private citizens to own nuclear weapons or other people. The Tokugawa success story involved rigorous top-down management (micro-management, actually) of forest resources as well as limiting population growth through a variety of means including contraception, abortion and infanticide.

I intend another post on how this relates to Social Security, pensions, bankruptcy, and deficit spending by the government.


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