A Quasi-Technical Defense of Property Rights

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From: Jeff Bone (jbone@jump.net)
Date: Tue Feb 01 2000 - 00:10:02 PST

Hey there. I've been on this sort of life / complexity / entelechy
reading tear lately... also been catching up on some rather "edgy"
compsci research at the same time. I've stumbled across a tidbit that I
thought I'd share. I thought this was a wonderful quasi-technical
defense of property rights, per an ANCIENT thread I seem to recall
around here. And it even defends property rights by making analogy to
object-oriented programming; high geek yuks for that!

Mark Miller (Sun Labs, Agorics, Electric Communities, ?) is a guy a met
at a Bionomics conference several years ago and then subsequently seem
to run into all over the place. We've got a lot of the same interests:
virtual communities, trust in security systems, languages, economics.
It's always fun to tune into his stuff. He's been working with Chip
Morningstar and Doug Crockford for several years now on a programming
language called "E." E was originally a better, pre-RMI distributed
computing facility for Java, but is now it's its own capability-based,
standalone language / egg-laying milk pig. ;-) Still, a great testbed
for neat concepts. In reading through the new docs to find out what's
happened since I last tuned in, I came across this tidbit. I don't know
for sure if Mark wrote this, but I suspect he did.

     " Hayek’s writings on economics enable us to see the
     commonality between the problems of concurrency control,
     pre-object programming, and command economies. All three
     suffer from plan interference.

     "Before objects, one part of a program might manipulate shared
     data in a way that destroys assumptions made by another part
     of the program -- the left hand not knowing about the right
     hand and all that. Before objects, there was no reasonable way
     to keep all these distributed assumptions straight. I remember
     this happening to me repeatedly while coding the left hand,
     even if I’d just coded the right hand myself a few days ago.
     Of course, it only got worse with more people and more time to

     "Hayek’s explanation of the primary virtue of property rights
     for organizing large scale economic activity parallels the
     rationale for encapsulation in object-oriented systems: to
     provide a domain (an object’s encapsulation boundary) in which
     an agent (the object) can execute plans (the object’s methods)
     that use of resources (an object’s private state), where the
     proper functioning of these plans depends on these resources
     not being used simultaneously by conflicting plans. By
     dividing up the resources of society (the state of a
     computational system) into separately owned chunks (private
     object states), we enable a massive number of plans to make
     use of a massive number of resources without needing to
     resolve a massive number of conflicting assumptions."

     (check out http://www.erights.org for the whole E thang and
     other goodies.)

Sounds reasonable to me. I suspect that a little application of game
theory could even prove this formally, i.e., I suspect that economics
could be treated as a set of nonzero-sum dual games played between an
individual and (the rest of) society (acting as an aggregate opponent.)
By introducing property rights, we optimize *everyone's* ability to
pursue and achieve their own goals with the greatest frequency, i.e.
Tit-For-Tat / Prisoner's Dilemma. I dunno, I haven't read the source
material, I don't know if Hayek gives a mathematical treatment or not,
but based on this second-hand description I can imagine it. (I'm going
to check out Hayek: I have no idea which of his MANY books to start
with, anybody have any suggestions?)

So let's extrapolate a little. Some of the other stuff I've been
reading has to do with the role of complexity in evolution, and
entelechy as an organizing principle in nature. (Nonzero: the Logic of
Human Destiny by Robert Wright, and At Home in the Universe by Stuart
Kauffman.) There's a meme floating around that says that natural
selection isn't the only driver, and that part of the reason life exists
is to create ever-more complex and large-scale, highly-networked
"organisms." Society itself is one of those organisms. If Hayek is
right about property rights being the optimal way to manage concurrent
access to resources by divergent interests in a socioeconomic context,
and if the entelechy meme is correct, then perhaps it is reasonable to
hypothesize that property rights and the free-market semantics that goes
along with them are all natural, optimal, and maybe eventually
inevitable features of intelligent social organisms like humanity.

So there. Hopefully more evocative and defensible than my last stand on
this issue. ;-) Fire away.


PS - those damned peasants can still stay the hell off my fallow
pasture. ;-)

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