Useful, scarce, and ownable

To have value, a thing must be:

  1. Useful
  2. Scarce
  3. Ownable

Number one needs no elaboration.

Number two ought to be obvious, but for some reason people fail miserably at it. If the supply of something is infinite–or you operate as though it were–then you have no incentive to preserve it. You may simply keep using and using it. Obviously sunlight is “valuable” in the sense that you cannot live without it, but how much would you pay for it? Nothing, for it is infinitely available. Would you conserve sunlight? Of course not. But a scuba diver pays for air and conserves it carefully, for air beneath the waves is dear indeed.

That which people own, they care for. That which they do not own, they frequently destroy. Compare the state of an owned house to a rental to a squat. These are different kinds of ownership–a renter owns a right to live in a house for a while, though not forever; a squatter may be evicted at any time. A patent lets you develop an idea by guaranteeing you the profits from its sales; an employment contract entitle you to another person’s labor or the products of it.

Without ownership, people cannot invest resources. Would you plant crops on a piece of land that might get bulldozed tomorrow to put up an office building? Would you put up an office building if squatters might be allowed to turn it into apartments tomorrow?

I started thinking about all of this in the context of the Taino, Caribbean Indians who were wiped out by the Spaniards about 500 years ago.

(Hey, did you know that we are temporally closer to the American Revolution than the American Revolution was to Columbus?)

The Spaniards basically treated the Indians like an infinite resource: they’d send them into the fields without food or water and beat them if they stopped working until they dropped dead about 36 hours later. Then they’d send out the next batch of Indians, to work until they fell dead.

When they ran out of Indians, they started importing Africans.

The treatment of slaves in Africa look a lot like the treatment of the Taino, except that no one ran out of Africans. At the funeral of King Gezo, King of Dahomey, Africa, “his loving subjects manifested their sorrow by sacrificing eight hundred negroes to his memory.” Efunsetan Aniwura, a Nigerian chieftess, was praised in song:

“The woman, who instils fear in others,
the fearsome one, who slaughters slaves to celebrate Id-el-Kabir.
Efunsetan is one force, Ibadan is another.
The valiant that challenges the Almighty God,
if the most high does not answer her on time,
Efunsetan leaves the earth to go and meet him in Heaven…”

It cost money to bring African slaves to the Caribbean, so they were slightly scarcer than in Africa and treated, correspondingly, slightly better. Not a lot better, but better than the Taino.

Getting worked to death in the fields (or, if you got captured by the Aztecs, getting butchered for dinner), is obviously labor’s worst-case-scenario. This happens when you have:

  1. No state to protect you, and
  2. Skills that are in near infinite supply.

(Thus also the buffalo and the passenger pigeon.)

There is an extremely large supply of humans, whose lives are of infinitely greater value to themselves than to anyone else.

A functional state protects its people from harm; in return, the people owe the state their allegiance. A state that is not owned is worthless–the German people do not “own” their state any more, because they do not have the right to bar others from it–a people that is not protected by their state will soon be dead. (edited) Skilled workers demand better wages than unskilled ones, because fewer people can do their job. Work a skilled employee to death and you might not find a replacement.

Perhaps labor’s best-case-scenario is to have one’s educational expenses covered by a corporation (or society itself) in exchange for a number of years of service to that corporation (or society), in order to produce a small number of highly-skilled people who will be able to command high salaries and good living conditions. An exam or other qualification standards to ensure that inferior workers don’t dilute the profession also helps.

A company cannot afford to invest in training employees if it cannot guarantee a return on its investment–that is, some right of ownership on the employees future labor. Unskilled laborers have little of value to offer on their own in return for education, except the promise of their future labor.

Once the debt is paid, the laborer owns his labor, though he may continue his contract with his company if he so desires.

In the US, doctors and lawyers have it pretty good–well paid and hardly ever worked to death. Entrance to these professions is tightly restricted–only people who have received legal or medical degrees from accredited colleges and passed an exam on the subject are legally allowed to practice. Individuals bear the cost of their initial educations (usually funded based on the promise of future wages paid back to the banks,) but lawyers and doctors then endure many years of on-the-job training–fellowships and residency for doctors, “associate” status for lawyers. At the end of this apprenticeship, lawyers hope to become owners of the company–partners–and doctors, attending physicians.

Wages have stagnated in America since the 60s while owners’ share of profits has increased, most likely because the labor market itself has massively increased due to mass immigration and the entry of women into the workforce. One of the great ironies of our modern age is unions advocating for increased immigration.

11 thoughts on “Useful, scarce, and ownable

  1. “A state that is not owned by its people is worthless.”

    What do you mean by this? I regard it as an idea of the revolutionary left.

    A state whose activity is not oriented towards the eudaimonia of the people, is worthless. But the common people need not “own” the state for this to occur.


    • I own my garden, thus I have an ability to make long-term planning decisions about its garden and receive the produce it creates. I may give away my produce or keep it; I may let visitors into my garden or bar them. These are my choices because it is mine.
      The German people do not “own” their state any more, because they do not have the right to bar others from it. It is the left’s assertion that the Germans do not have this right to their own country.

      Certainly not all the people within a certain geographic region need “own” it to be a good country. But someone must own it.


  2. A state that is not owned is worthless–the German people do not “own” their state any more, because they do not have the right to bar others from it–a people that is not protected by their state will soon be dead.

    I know it was edited. It’s still wrong. The German people “owning” their state (allegedly their only protection from invasion from muzzies) is exactly the same as not being owned. It is precisely because “The German State” has been turned into a commons, where one set of German “owners” can now use state power to cheat other German “owners” (e.g, by buying future voters or feelings of personal holiness or licorice ropes). The state must be formally owned. By an actual executive upon whom falls the full weight of the common good of the German people. Otherwise, the tragedy of wastage of the commons is inevitable.


    • I mean formal ownership in the real sense, of owning something because you created it and can prevent others from taking it. Not in the modern democratic sense, which is the exact opposite of what I mean, where people successively give away ownership to people who never created society in the first place, because they no longer recognize that society was “created” by anyone.


      • Ah I see. Well the formulation is a little obscure then. “The German People” cannot own (in a meaningful sense) Germany. German People should certainly own their pieces of it. But a single conscious entity should own the commons (e.g., the borders), which *does* come across well in the post. A state is the thing that keeps a people being a people.


  3. One of the great ironies of our modern age is unions advocating for increased immigration.

    Indeed, a great irony. But not a one off. It is one of many examples where the elite spokespersons of Class X (often not very well rooted in Class X to begin with) sell out the true interests of Class X for power and profit. Basically it’s political rent seeking. The schema works equally well for X={Blue Collar Workers, Women, Blacks, Hispanics, …}.


    • Lesbians speak for All Women.
      Spanish speaking College Educated Whites speak for All Hispanics.
      Lawyers and Politicos speak for All Union Members.
      Mulattoes speak for All Blacks.

      It seems unavoidable. In a democracy. Where public opinion matters, public opinion will be curated.

      Liked by 1 person

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