Possessed by unreality

January 19, 2015 § 80 Comments

A test of economic actuality:

If it is possible for an owner to take possession of X, to transfer possession of X to a buyer or borrower, or to repossess X from objective reality independent of the borrower when the borrower stops making payments, then it is possible for X to be objectively real actual property.

If it is not possible for an owner to take possession of X, to transfer possession of X to a buyer or borrower, or to repossess X from objective reality independent of the borrower when the borrower stops making payments, then it is not possible for X to be objectively real actual property.

Abstractions like “time value of money” and “opportunity cost” – and by-definition foregone choices generally – fail this test precisely because, even though they may be useful abstract parameters in various economic theories, it is not possible for them to be property.  That you could have married Martha but actually married Jane may be true enough, to the extent that truth can obtain of counterfactuals.  But it cannot be property.

§ 80 Responses to Possessed by unreality

  • I suppose the interesting/controversial question that arises out of this is pirating. Intellectual propery and digital mediums, especailly with the easy replication of digital media.

  • Zippy says:

    Intellectual property does have (an) identifiable owner(s) and can change possession in the various ways specified, so it is at least possible for it to be property under this heuristic test.

    It might or might not be morally licit for other reasons: e.g. a company that produces pornography is property, but it is morally illicit for other reasons.

  • jf12 says:

    Of an objectively possessed thing the question “Is it mine and not his?” can be answered affirmatively. “Inherit the wind” is a proverbial expression of non-possession.

  • Zippy says:

    I suppose someone might object that intellectual property rights (copyright, patents, etc) are enforced by the sovereign, and so for that reason cannot be property. But by that rule nothing at all can be property.

    What makes copyright different from other kinds of property is that it is possible for a third party to make replicas or instances of the property by borrowing the original or a copy of the original. There is a whole moral discussion to be had about that, no doubt.

    Trademarks, patents, and trade secrets would each admit of their own analysis.

    But as far as usury goes, it seems possible for these things – as transferrable bundles of economic rights enforced by the sovereign – to be property in the pertinent sense.

  • I don’t think IP is legitimately property. To take exclusive possession of it, one must prevent others from reproducing it on their own, thus failing your test.

    Of course it’s not usury either, as it is not destroyed in use.

  • Zippy says:

    Arkansas Reactionary:
    I don’t have a well-developed moral theory of intellectual property. However, it is something asserted by the legitimate sovereign, so unless there is something intrinsically immoral about it it must be respected. (Relevant).

    Without a convincing theory of why it is intrinsically immoral, then, intellectual property must be treated as property. And it clearly has characteristics of property, as demonstrated by its capacity to pass the test in the OP.

    To take exclusive possession of it, one must prevent others from reproducing it on their own …

    All property relations though involve requiring other people to do and not do things under the authority of the proprietor. In order to take possession of a house one must prevent others from doing so.

    That isn’t a defense of IP as much as it is an observation that more work would need to be done to demonstrate the intrinsic moral liciety or illiciety of the various kinds of IP.

  • To take possession of a house, one must prevent other people from possessing that particular house. But one needn’t affect what others do elsewhere. On the other hand, to take exclusive possession of IP, one needs to prevent certain activity by others always and everywhere. That’s not proprietary authority, that’s sovereign authority (since the sovereign can prohibit certain conduct generally, e.g. possessing Plutonium without authorization, but property owners can only prohibit conduct involving particular items they possess).

    Now sovereign taxing authority should be directed to the common good, not to private good, yet when a copyright holder demands royalties, he is effectively imposing a tax, not for delivery to the public treasury, but to his own pocket. Which makes such unjust. Additionally, the reason why a man deserves compensation for his labor, sufficient to provide for himself and his family, is because by performing labor for another, he forfeits the ability to do other work to provide for himself. If a man could bilocate and do two jobs, each employer would be responsible for only half of his just wage. Now with IP, a man gets payed over and over again for the same work, which is excessive. Thus, for these reasons, laws providing for royalties are unjust.

    Of course, it is prudent to pay royalties, just as it prudent to pay property tax, pay off usurious debts, etc.

  • Zippy says:

    ArkansasReactionary:
    I think you state the argument well, but the lynchpin on IP is right here:

    Now sovereign taxing authority should be directed to the common good, not to private good, …

    I think you are correct that IP involves a kind of delegation of sovereign power to individual owners. That is precisely the reasoning given for IP, and is also why most IP has an expiration date after which it passes into the public domain.

    Here is the US Constitution:

    The Congress shall have power … To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries; …

    Now with IP, a man gets payed over and over again for the same work, which is excessive.

    That doesn’t pertain to the intrinsic morality of IP though. IP per se can be morally licit without particular instances of it being justly compensated.

  • As currently set up, IP inherently involves repeat compensation of the owners.

    Regarding the argument that IP laws serve the public good, by encouraging scientific and artistic progress, I don’t think this holds. While one can argue that IP laws promote the public good, individual IP owners, by exercising the sovereign authority delegated to them, would be acting only for their own good. So the taxes they imposed would be unjust. But if the taxes they impose would be unjust, then it would be wrong for sovereign authority to enforce them. Thus the laws providing for royalties are unjust.

  • Zippy says:

    ArkansasReactionary:

    As currently set up, IP inherently involves repeat compensation of the owners.

    There is nothing intrinsically wrong about a property owner receiving repeat compensation (rent) for the use of his property.

    While one can argue that IP laws promote the public good, individual IP owners, by exercising the sovereign authority delegated to them, would be acting only for their own good.

    It seems to me that you are assuming a conflict between the public good and the good of the owner. While that may be the case in particular circumstances, it cannot possibly be a universal rule.

  • The reason why I man can licitly rent a house for example, is that by allowing another person to occupy it, he loses the use of it. Even if he also lives there, he still loses the use of some space by the other person’s occupancy. With IP, however, the owner loses nothing by others’ use of it, thus earning money from the use of it is illicit, because the money is not owed to one in justice.

    I would hold it as practically axiomatic that just taxation must be delivered to the public treasury.

  • Zippy says:

    ArkansasReactionary:

    The reason why I man can licitly rent a house for example, is that by allowing another person to occupy it, he loses the use of it.

    That is one theory, based on deprivation of the owner. A different one is that the owner is entitled to rent because the renter gets the use of the owner’s property.

    I would hold it as practically axiomatic that just taxation must be delivered to the public treasury.

    I certainly would not hold that as axiomatic – that is, as something self-evident which requires no justification. Even granting for the sake of argument that IP is a kind of tax, which may be problematic on any number of levels, it seems to me that the flow of taxes and minted currency are matters for the prudential judgement of the sovereign.

  • The deprivation theory is more sensible, since it is only because of the inability of two to simultaneously use the same thing that property exists at all. If you could copy land, there would be no sense saying that anyone owns land.

    Can you identify any other instance in which it would be licit for taxation to accrue to a private individual?

  • Zippy says:

    ArkansasReactionary:

    The deprivation theory is more sensible, since it is only because of the inability of two to simultaneously use the same thing that property exists at all.

    That may be true for some kinds of property (especially natural resources), but it obviously is not a complete theory of property and its justification. After all, a book would not exist at all if it weren’t for the author.

    Can you identify any other instance in which it would be licit for taxation to accrue to a private individual?

    Sure. Public funds paying private individuals to build roads, buildings, etc. There are too many examples to even begin to enumerate them.

  • While a physical book is property, I would dispute that the information contained therein is. And it also applies to books. If you use my book, I can’t simultaneously use it.

    So compensation due to the individuals from the state. The way royalties law presently works, the compensation is in no way proportionate to the labor done.

  • Note also that attribution could be required without allowing royalties.

  • Zippy says:

    ArkansasReactionary:

    While a physical book is property, I would dispute that the information contained therein is.

    You are changing the subject and begging the question all at once. I was addressing your claim that “it is only because of the inability of two to simultaneously use the same thing that property exists at all”.

    That is demonstrably and obviously untrue. “War and Peace” – or that copy of it right there, for that matter – does not exist only because of the inability of two people to use it simultaneously.

    Now maybe you meant that that is the sole justification for enforcement of property rights. But I see no reason whatsoever to believe that, and I am unsympathetic to (1) pretty much any monomaniacal positivist theory of property specifically or authority generally; and (2) any theory of property which discounts the value of intellectual contribution to zero, as if intellectual content and contribution were not actual. If the intellectual content of a book is not part of it -qua- property then any physical bundle of paper is as valuable as any other.

  • Of course when I said that “property exists only because”, by “property” I meant “property rights”.

    That isn’t positivist anymore than saying “marriage exists for the good of the offspring” is positivist.

    Of course the content of the book contributes to its value, but once information is published, it becomes public information.

  • Zippy says:

    ArkansasReactionary:

    That isn’t positivist anymore than saying “marriage exists for the good of the offspring” is positivist.

    It became a positivist monomaniacal theory the moment you used the word “only”.

    Of course the content of the book contributes to its value, but once information is published, it becomes public information.

    That’s one theory: that once the public gets its hands on something which can be copied, they owe nothing whatsoever to the person who produced it.

    A lousy theory, mind you, but it is a theory.

  • Property rights would not exist save for, since you object to the word “only”.

    I didn’t say they owe nothing, I said they don’t owe monetary compensation, because IP dies not have the qualities of property.

    There are two basic types of information, private and public. IP law proposes to create another, which is public, yet which a certain private individual can regulate the distribution of.

  • Zippy says:

    AR:
    I think it is pretty obvious that writing (and production of beneficial information more generally) is real work and deserves monetary compensation as much as any other sort of work, that the output of a writer’s work is almost entirely non physical but no less objectively real for that, etc.

    I think you’ve got a lot of reductive theories (now adding the “only two kinds of information” theory to the list), and I see lots of reasons not to take your reductive theories as dispositive or even especially plausible.

  • Compensation is deserved for the labor. But the system of IP compensates them many times over.

  • Zippy says:

    So we’ve agreed that IP is licit and are just haggling over the price.

  • No, I disagree with the principle that one should be payed multiple times for the same act of labor.

  • Zippy says:

    …. and you beg the question in defining what the author has produced – in contrast to what, say, the carpenter has produced – as “labor”.

  • A carpenter’s product can be protected from use by others without the issuance by the owner of norms binding other people everywhere.

  • Zippy says:

    So the fact that the carpenter’s work is less useful means that he is entitled to greater compensation?

  • Zippy says:

    Suppose a carpenter-author-entrepreneur writes a book that teaches techniques he invented, which are subsequently used to build a million houses using the resources it previously took to build a hundred thousand houses.

    Suppose that – putting in the exact same time that the author did writing his book – the carpenter builds exactly one house.

    The author produced net actual property of 900,000 houses through his work efforts – houses which would not have been produced had he not done the work he did. The carpenter produced exactly one house.

    Of the two, who is entitled to greater compensation for the property he actually produced?

  • They are both entitled to the same compensation since they did the same amount of work (assuming same life expenses etc.). The author’s labor did not build those houses, the labor of the carpenters who worked on them did.

  • Zippy says:

    They didn’t do the same amount of work. Same amount of time does not equal same amount of work. Is it one of your reductionist theories that all labor should be paid precisely the same hourly wage?

    (The “resources” in the hypothetical includes time spent by carpenters, by the way).

  • How did one do more work?

  • Zippy says:

    What unit (if not time) are you using to measure “work” in order to call them equal? The author obviously accomplished much more; but in general they are only loosely if at all commensurable quantitatively.

    Your problem, again, is monomaniacal reductive theory.

  • Time is a good standard. The fruits of the work are not, as these depend on things outside the workers. If you have some other standard showing one to be superior to the other, please tell me.

  • Zippy says:

    AR:

    Time is a good standard. The fruits of the work are not, as these depend on things outside the workers.

    Human beings don’t create ex nihilo, so everything we do with our natural or acquired powers depends on things outside ourselves, always. It doesn’t follow that every human act has equal value (economic or otherwise).

    If you are committed to the idea that justice requires that everyone always be paid the exact same hourly compensation no matter what kind of work they do or what property they build, etc, then I frankly see no reason to continue the discussion. We’ve reached a reductio ad absurdum (if we hadn’t already done so several comments ago), and the clear implication is that something is broken in your thoughts on the subject.

  • Everyone should be payed a sufficient amount to provide for their own needs and those of their family. And should not be payed vastly in excess of this.

  • TMLutas says:

    Zippy, you still don’t get time value of money. People prefer to have money today more than money tomorrow. That’s just simply a fact of human nature. Catholicism generally is very good about recognizing human nature for what it is. Calling a readily observed and widespread part of human nature illusory is not going to map well onto Catholicism.

    The time value of money is an attempt to quantify the preference. Opportunity cost is an attempt to describe why this preference exists. One can argue that the formula for quantifying the preference is wrong. One can say that there are actually different motivations why the preference exists rather than opportunity costs. Very few people will cringe over that, though they may disagree that your proposed alternates are better descriptors. You seem to be engaged in a persistent effort to deny the existence of the underlying preference. You aren’t going to get anywhere with that as most people instinctively will react that this is nuts, and they’ll be right.

  • Zippy says:

    TM Lutas:

    you still don’t get time value of money.

    You really should consider the possibility that the failure in understanding is your own. Because that is, in fact, the case. If you don’t think it is the case perhaps you should try paraphrasing my (and Aquinas’) position correctly. You haven’t managed to do so yet.

    I’ll help — again.

    Time value of money is a perfectly valid and sometimes useful abstract parameter in economic theory.

    However, not every useful abstract parameter in economic theory is an objective thing capable of being the property of an owner. Property consists (minimally) of objective things which can be alienated from particular persons, possessed, repossessed, owned, rented, bought, and sold.

    What time value of money is not – for about the hundredth time – is actual property which can be possessed, repossessed, owned, rented, bought, or sold.

    There are plenty of other abstract things which cannot be property: the number four, for example. Numbers are critical concepts for understanding economic theory, but it is not possible for numbers to be property. Four does not have an owner, and it cannot be possessed, repossessed, owned, rented, bought, or sold.

    You seem to be engaged in a persistent effort to deny the existence of the underlying preference.

    Wrong. (“Existence”, like any term, can be multivocal. If you decide that you don’t want to understand I am certain you will succeed).

    What I (and Aquinas, and the Magisterium) deny is that subjective preferences (whether individual or in aggregate) are the kind of objects which are capable of being property — objects which can be alienated from persons and licitly possessed, repossessed, owned, rented, bought, or sold.

    Time value of money is no more capable of being property than the number four.

  • […] regrets, and of the utility of those concepts in some kinds of theorizing.  It is just that, like the number four and many other abstract things, regrets are not capable of being property or of giving rise to an […]

  • TMLutas says:

    Zippy – I’m going to try to keep it simple. Either people generally prefer money now over money tomorrow or they do not. Do you agree that this human preference exists in reality, or not?

    If you agree that it exists, how would you measure it?

    If you do not agree that it exists, well, could I borrow some money?

  • Zippy says:

    TMLutas:

    You keep trying to reframe the discussion in a way which suggests that I have claimed something I have not claimed, that I don’t understand economic theory, etc. This can either be because you really don’t understand what I have claimed, or it can be because you are deliberately attempting to obfuscate. But in either case it doesn’t help your case objectively. From your incomprehension no conclusions about the subject matter can be drawn, other than that you find it perplexing.

    Do you agree that

    A) The number four exists in a sense; and

    B) The number four cannot belong to an owner as his fungible ontologically real property.

    If you do, then you will better understand the claim (even if you still balk at it for reasons you have failed to articulate) that

    1) Subjective preferences (like the one you mention for money now versus money later) do exist in a sense, and

    2) Subjective preferences cannot belong to an owner as his fungible ontologically real property.

    If you don’t agree with A and B, then who owns the number four? Inquiring minds want to know.

  • TMLutas says:

    A number four can certainly belong to an owner. You take a block of wood, cut out the shape and you have a number four. The concept four can have an owner if the state decrees it (crazier things have happened in the history of intellectual property) but I don’t think that this is what you’re trying to get at.

    Nobody borrows the concept of money. They borrow actual money. So tossing in the concept of the time value of money instead of an instantiation of the concept really is not sticking with apples to apples.

    Subjective preferences, when they are triggered in an unpleasant way inside an actual human being are an injury. Injuries are compensable. They are even property in a loose sense. It is proper english to say “I have an injury”. The borrower inflicts worry on the lender. The worry is recompensable. The amount of just recompense depends on the time preference of the lender. An attempt to understand why a particular time preference exists can be described as opportunity cost. But those are academic concepts that are conveniences to try to fit the messiness of humanity and our emotions to something more amenable to mathematical calculation.

  • Zippy says:

    TML:

    The concept four can have an owner if the state decrees it …

    If nothing else, you’ve clearly illustrated modern dogmatic anti-realism w.r.t property for the sake of others.

    So tossing in the concept of the time value of money instead of an instantiation of the concept really is not sticking with apples to apples.

    Right. Usurers attempt economic trade in opportunity costs, which are conceptual instantiations of the time value of money in particular circumstances — and which cannot be ontologically real property any more than the number four or emotional regrets or emotional distress can be ontologically real property.

  • TMLutas says:

    I feel like I’m having a discussion with a feminist and she’s sputtered “that’s not funny”. Yes it is, zippy, yes it is. Make room in life for the occasional joke, you’ll live longer.

    And you’re still building up that straw man. Injuries are compensable whether they are property or not. You seem to be making the case that people should not have the right to a civil suit when they are a victim of an injury. Is that by accident or do you mean to do that.

  • Zippy says:

    TML:

    Injuries are compensable whether they are property or not.

    Injuring someone through negligence or criminal activity is not a mutual commercial contract for gain. (If it were, it would be morally illicit to enter into such a contract, just as it is morally illicit to charge usury on a mutuum loan).

    But maybe nobody besides me will notice that.

  • Zippy says:

    The more astute reader probably will notice that even defenders of usury inevitably end up comparing it to fraud, theft, and injury through negligence. That is because that is precisely the conceptual space in which usury properly belongs by its nature: usury is a kind of fraud, a trade for profit (as Aquinas says) in what does not exist (that is, in what is not property).

    This comparison is then rhetorically maneuvered in such a way that it provides a surface rationalization for making a profit on such ‘injuries’ deliberately sustained.

    But titles which arise through negligence, theft, fraud, etc lack two things that the usurer needs them to have in order for them to actually serve the purpose toward which he rhetorically attempts to put them.

    First, such titles don’t arise as a matter of a mutually agreed contract for gain: you don’t mutually agree in a contract to be hit by a drunk driver and sustain injuries, unless you are trying to defraud the insurance company. Second, such titles are not titles to profit. Compensation for actual losses through theft, fraud, or negligence is not a commercial profit in a business venture.

  • TMLutas says:

    Of course worry is the exact same thing as theft, fraud, or negligence. So says Zippy Catholic and so it must be true because…

    Squirrel!

    Worry is a service, and therefore labor which makes it licit.

    The banker collects 1000 demand depositors who put in enough money to make 10 house loans. Rather than charge them for the storage, the banker says that they may retrieve their money at any time but that he will loan out the money so long as he has it. He is a borrower in this transaction and he is borrowing short. He is providing a service (money storage) for free in exchange for him not actually charging for the service. He lends long. From the perspective of the mortgage holder, the banker is wrangling his loan syndicate of 100 +/- lenders and making all that complexity disappear, a valuable service that is essential to make the loan happen at all. The banker lends long and charges for this management service as part of the interest on the loan.

    The banker is constantly worried, in fact he’s being paid to worry because his depositors can ask for more money than he has in reserve at any moment (thus deposit insurance). His loans may turn up bad in larger numbers than he has calculated and he may go bust that route too. He is a professional worrier so neither of his counter-parties has to. Your opinion is that he shouldn’t be paid for this.

    That’s a crock.

  • TMLutas says:

    Rereading, I had a small error. The banker provides free money storage in exchange for the use of the money while he has it. You know, the kind of transaction that St. Thomas Aquinas says is impossible to have with money, but is possible to have with property.

  • Zippy says:

    Your description of banking is incorrect. Banking is not storage of money.

  • TMLutas says:

    Sorry, your definition of banking is incorrect. Banking is a number of things, one of which is storage of money.

  • Zippy says:

    There is a reason why accounts at a credit union are called “share accounts”: because they do not store money, they represent shares in the business operations of the credit union. Savings and checking accounts represent the same sort of contractual relationship: a census on the operations of the bank.

    Nobody in 2015 has any excuse for thinking that the bank literally stores their savings or checking account money in a vault.

    And “worry” in itself isn’t actual work for which a laborer is paid. If it were, then Jewish mothers would be raking in the dough while kvetching.

  • However, not every useful abstract parameter in economic theory is an objective thing capable of being the property of an owner. Property consists (minimally) of objective things which can be alienated from particular persons, possessed, repossessed, owned, rented, bought, and sold.

    I am delighted after our discussion on Dave G’s site that you have gone to more accurately calling such “property” instead of “not real”.

    If nothing else, you’ve clearly illustrated modern dogmatic anti-realism w.r.t property for the sake of others.

    Unless you meant the above as a “chuckle along” and agreement (like if I were to say to a friend, “that’s how it goes!”), then you are incorrect in your accusation of Lutas as he said right after your quote:

    “(crazier things have happened in the history of intellectual property)”

    Which means he considers such crazy himself and that the modern era isn’t anything closet to sane. (but then what era is?)

    Usurers attempt economic trade in opportunity costs, which are conceptual instantiations of the time value of money in particular circumstances — and which cannot be ontologically real property any more than the number four or emotional regrets or emotional distress can be ontologically real property.

    That is because that is precisely the conceptual space in which usury properly belongs by its nature: usury is a kind of fraud, a trade for profit (as Aquinas says) in what does not exist (that is, in what is not property).

    By that logic, therefore, healthcare is usury. To take just one example of it: surgery, because surgery itself cannot be a property possessed, repossessed, owned, rented, bought and sold. I mean if I operate on you then bill you for my work (since obviously you probably couldn’t pay me up front if you were seriously injured), and you don’t pay, there’s no real way I can “repossess” what I did for you (setting aside jokes about the mob).

    Therefore we have only 2 possible conclusions: Either surgeons should never be paid, or Catholics and the Church (who run lots of hospitals to their credit) are the biggest practitioners of usury by sheer number in the world.

  • Zippy says:

    natewinchester:

    I am delighted after our discussion on Dave G’s site that you have gone to more accurately calling such “property” instead of “not real”.

    I can’t parse what you are saying here, but Aquinas uses the terminology “what does not exist” to describe abstractions as contrasted to property, which is perfectly correct when you read him charitably rather than assuming that he was an imbecile. I’ve used different terminology in a number of places in attempts to help people understand.

    By that logic, therefore, healthcare is usury.

    I don’t see any valid “logic” as a referent of “that”. The prohibition of usury does not prohibit paying workers (including surgeons) for what those workers make actual, and anyone who thinks it does simply does not understand it. Lack of comprehension of usury doctrine by various parties does not translate into a flaw in usury doctrine.

  • I can’t parse what you are saying here, but Aquinas uses the terminology “what does not exist” to describe abstractions as contrasted to property, which is perfectly correct when you read him charitably rather than assuming that he was an imbecile. I’ve used different terminology in a number of places in attempts to help people understand.

    You probably can’t parse it because you keep trying to drag Aquinas into it when he’s tangentially related at best. Look, if you can be humble for one minute, then you should be able to admit that however great Aquinas might be, your presentation of things could be quite (if not severely) lacking. It’s certainly intellectually dishonest to warp critiques of your presentation as attacks on Aquinas. (like the protestant preacher who counters critiques of his interpretations of the Bible as attacks upon God) Don’t borrow the glory of greater men to protect your own pride.

    The simple fact is that things can be real, yet not be property (I haven’t read all of Aquinas but I would assume he would say the same, it would apply to God at the least). Whether anything can be not real yet be property is apparently the entire basis of your argument with TM Lutas and some others.

    I don’t see any valid “logic” as a referent of “that”. The prohibition of usury does not prohibit paying workers (including surgeons) for what those workers make actual, and anyone who thinks it does simply does not understand it. Lack of comprehension of usury doctrine by various parties does not translate into a flaw in usury doctrine.

    Ok, so you said “workers make actual”. Well then, in this one specific example (surgery) what does the worker make actual? Because of how you’ve previously been using “actual”, there is nothing real being made by the surgeon, so therefore why should the surgeon be paid?

    Labor is probably the first and best example of something which is not real (as you and apparently Aquinas define) yet still is property. Knowledge and instruction would be another.

  • Zippy says:

    natewinchester:

    Look, if you can be humble for one minute, then you should be able to admit that however great Aquinas might be, your presentation of things could be quite (if not severely) lacking.

    We can stipulate that I make crappy editorial choices if that helps in some way.

    It’s certainly intellectually dishonest to warp critiques of your presentation as attacks on Aquinas.

    I’m going to let that slide on the assumption that you are unaware that many people – including just for example John Noonan and not incidentally the commenter you are defending – explicitly say that Aquinas is wrong on the subject of usury. It isn’t intellectually dishonest (whatever flaws in presentation may obtain) to counter that no, actually, Aquinas was right on usury.

    Furthermore, that my terminology mirrors his is not an accident. I have tried to be careful to use the phrase “ontologically real property”, by the way, and that doesn’t seem to help because my interlocutors always ignore the word “property” and go down the same rat hole you have gone down.

    And while this is all very delightfully distracting, none of it has any bearing on the fact under contention: that Aquinas was right that charging interest on a mutuum loan is usury and always mortally sinful (grave matter, for the pedantic).

    The simple fact is that things can be real, yet not be property

    Nobody has ever denied that, as far as I am aware.

    Because of how you’ve previously been using “actual”, there is nothing real being made by the surgeon, so therefore why should the surgeon be paid?

    That’s just nonsense. The surgeon really does perform an operation and make actual alterations to the patient’s body.

    Labor is probably the first and best example of something which is not real (as you and apparently Aquinas define) yet still is property. Knowledge and instruction would be another.

    One reason I wrote my FAQ is to help people avoid making rookie mistakes like that when engaging with this subject. No doubt my own editorial failings have resulted in limited success in that respect; although I suspect that sometimes there are other . factors. involved.

    Workers are paid for what they make actual.

    Things like ‘opportunity costs’ – intentionally foregone opportunities – are not actual, and yet the usurer – the mutuum lender who demands interest – requires payment for them. This is fundamentally and intrinsically unjust, as Aquinas explains and as I have (ineptly I am sure) attempted to re-explain in language that modern people are more likely to understand, assuming that they actually do want to understand.

  • Zippy can I just point out, looking at your links, that the titles of your posts are awesome?

  • I’m going to let that slide on the assumption that you are unaware that many people – including just for example John Noonan and not incidentally the commenter you are defending – explicitly say that Aquinas is wrong on the subject of usury. It isn’t intellectually dishonest (whatever flaws in presentation may obtain) to counter that no, actually, Aquinas was right on usury.

    I am not aware of any of that because I do not obsessively stalk you or take the time to read every iota. Still I do not see the relevance of bringing up your fights with them in contexts where they’re not explicitly mentioned. If I am referring to someone, I will specifically mention them or try to make clear the context.

    Furthermore, that my terminology mirrors his is not an accident. I have tried to be careful to use the phrase “ontologically real property”, by the way, and that doesn’t seem to help because my interlocutors always ignore the word “property” and go down the same rat hole you have gone down.

    1) I’m reasonably sure language has changed quite a bit since Aquinas wrote so if you are using terms (and more) that have changed in the years it’s really your fault that people misunderstand. Just as if I were to go out evangelizing by speaking in Greek or Aramaic and then complained about all the people not converting even though I’m totally using the language and words of Jesus.
    2) I did miss the word “property”, I apologize for that, but to be fair, by your own definitions “ontologically real property” is one of the most redundant phrases imagined. If a reader IS being charitable, then they wouldn’t think you’re using something almost stupidly redundant but making one of the possible points that a) there are different kinds of property, some is ontologically real, some is not, or b) it was a typo and ontologically real is the important point (because that’s so rarely accidentally typed) and property is the mistake.

    As I’ve pointed out to you, “opportunity costs” are real because it’s just the matter of fact observation of the limitations of time and space (though I’ll welcome you to try and argue against it). Whether they are property is apparently the real debate between you and the others and for that I’ll play the role of Elihu and step aside to let the wiser men debate.

    And while this is all very delightfully distracting, none of it has any bearing on the fact under contention: that Aquinas was right that charging interest on a mutuum loan is usury and always mortally sinful (grave matter, for the pedantic).

    Minor correction: Some might be contending the fact, but I was contending with other facts. For now I’m looking up mutuum loan which does answer some of my questions about food (so I guess loaning food is also usury?) and looking at those.

    That’s just nonsense. The surgeon really does perform an operation and make actual alterations to the patient’s body.

    Workers are paid for what they make actual.

    But a loan does not alter anything? It least alters money (i.e. if I loan to you, you now have money, I don’t, thus altering finances between us).

    Still it doesn’t change that what surgeons do and/or give are not “ontologically real property”.

    Another example would be educators as what teachers alter (if anything) is even less measurable and ontologically real. Or what about a security guard? If one stands at the door to a building all night and nothing happens, nothing was altered or made actual, should he be paid?

    I trust you at least answered the ditch-digging fallacy in your FAQ?

    Things like ‘opportunity costs’ – intentionally foregone opportunities – are not actual, and yet the usurer – the mutuum lender who demands interest – requires payment for them. This is fundamentally and intrinsically unjust, as Aquinas explains and as I have (ineptly I am sure) attempted to re-explain in language that modern people are more likely to understand, assuming that they actually do want to understand.

    Does your FAQ at least answer the question of people bidding on borrowing money? (I can restate the riddle if you don’t remember or recognize the context right away.)

  • Zippy says:

    natewinchester:

    I’m reasonably sure language has changed quite a bit since Aquinas wrote so if you are using terms (and more) that have changed in the years it’s really your fault that people misunderstand.

    Your opinion about my editorial choices has already been noted.

    I did miss the word “property”, I apologize for that, but to be fair, by your own definitions “ontologically real property” is one of the most redundant phrases imagined.

    It isn’t at all clear that you even now have any idea what I mean by the terms I am using. I suppose that is part of your editorial criticism.

    As I’ve pointed out to you, “opportunity costs” are [actual] because it’s just the matter of fact observation of the limitations of time and space (though I’ll welcome you to try and argue against it).

    And you are as wrong (or confused) now as you were the first time you said it. Opportunity costs are by definition not actual: they are profits which hypothetically could have resulted if the investor had made different choices from the one he actually made.

    Hypotheticals (again) can be useful in theorizing and can be said to be ‘real’ in a sense; but they are – especially intentionally foregone ones – by definition not actual.

    For now I’m looking up mutuum loan …

    You would already know what it means if you had read my FAQ instead of leaping in to criticize without actually reading what you were criticizing.

    … which does answer some of my questions about food (so I guess loaning food is also usury?) and looking at those.

    Charging someone twice for the same food is similar to usury, yes, and is certainly unjust.

  • Zippy says:

    [This comment is now a new post]

    The “night watchman” is actually a canonical example. For some reason supporters of usury tend to think that night watchmen don’t do anything actual. But a night watchmen clearly does something actual, or else his activities would be just as valuable and he would get paid just as much for sitting at the bar down the street drinking beer rather than manning his post. But he actually does provide a deterrent to thieves by his actual presence, his actual vigilance actually does prevent theft when theft is attempted, and his actual witness to what happens helps in actual investigation and prosecution even if an actual theft is successful.

    As I mention in the FAQ, modern supporters of usury tend to suffer from a kind of anti-realist materialism. So every time I use the word “actual”, they hear “physical”. If anything non-material is actual, in their confused view, then everything non-material must be actual.

    So opportunity costs – profits intentionally foregone by an investor in hypothetical investments that he did not actually make – as as “real” as the protection provided by a night watchman.

    While it is doubtless true that my editorial choices could be improved and perhaps even are atrocious, I cannot explain things to people until they reach the point where it is possible for them to understand what I am explaining. I really have to leave it to others to determine how much of the incomprehension on the subject is because of my editorial incompetence and how much is because of the incapacity of certain readers to understand. But I am working on the editorial end of it all the time.

    Finally, it would be a mistake to conflate incomprehension with genuine disagreement. On this subject, as on many, there is far more incomprehension than there is comprehension accompanied by genuine disagreement.

  • It isn’t at all clear that you even now have any idea what I mean by the terms I am using. I suppose that is part of your editorial criticism.

    Yes, if you’re using English then you shouldn’t be surprised that people will leap immediately to the standard English meaning of words instead of whatever special or old fashioned definitions you have in mind. A good example of how to do this well is the Other McCain’s sex trouble series where he links to the contexts of phrases and words he’s using that might be different from how it’s commonly understood. (indeed he also points out several times in the series about how feminists will misuse this “trick”, using a word – like equality – which everyone has a common understanding of when the context of their movement it means something completely different)

    (I don’t think you’re malicious, that was just an aside.)

    And you are as wrong (or confused) now as you were the first time you said it. Opportunity costs are by definition not actual: they are profits which hypothetically could have resulted if the investor had made different choices from the one he actually made.

    Everything I’ve ever found on the subject says that Opportunity cost is just the economic slang for 2 observations: You can’t be in 2 places at once, and you can’t do 2 things at once. Wikipedia for example points out: “Thus, opportunity costs are not restricted to monetary or financial costs: … lost time” so, again, you’re setting yourself as having to argue that somehow time is not real or actual.

    Now there seems to be a lot of subgroups and terms under opportunity costs, and it seems to me that one of those is what you’re really arguing with others about. It’s like if you were trying to argue that dark matter wasn’t real, but you did so by saying “Physics isn’t real!” Then whenever someone tried pointing out to you that physics are very much real, you jump to your proof of dark matter’s non existence.

    Maybe if you headed some others trying to get you to specify which specific part of the greater whole you’re objecting to instead of the whole, things would be much more productive. As it is, you start to seem a bit crazy when, to return to the metaphor, someone is trying to point out you’re speaking about dark matter and you rant about the sinfulness of physics.

    Hypotheticals (again) can be useful in theorizing and can be said to be ‘real’ in a sense; but they are – especially intentionally foregone ones – by definition not actual.

    Fair enough, and fair warning, I’ll be saving this…

    You would already know what it means if you had read my FAQ instead of leaping in to criticize without actually reading what you were criticizing.

    To be honest, you haven’t conducted yourself well enough for me to just blindly believe your words so I’m cross checking them.

    The “night watchman” is actually a canonical example. For some reason supporters of usury tend to think that night watchmen don’t do anything actual. But a night watchmen clearly does something actual, or else his activities would be just as valuable and he would get paid just as much for sitting at the bar down the street drinking beer rather manning his post. But he actually does provide a deterrent to thieves by his actual presence, his actual vigilance actually does prevent theft when theft is attempted, and his actual witness to what happens helps in actual investigation and prosecution even if an actual theft is successful.

    Except all that is hypothetical, particularly the bit about deterrent. And you just said earlier:
    Hypotheticals (again) can be useful in theorizing and can be said to be ‘real’ in a sense; but they are – especially intentionally foregone ones – by definition not actual.
    By this point it all gains a whiff of arbitrariness. Why is what “could have happened” with the night watchman involved “actual” while what “could have happened” when anyone else (like a banker, or a loaner) not “actual”? What’s a good rule of thumb for any random person to determine whether a “could have happened” is an actual or not? (other than “just ask Zippy”)

    As I mention in the FAQ, modern supporters of usury tend to suffer from a kind of anti-realist materialism. So every time I use the word “actual”, they hear “physical”. If anything non-material is actual, in their confused view, then everything non-material must be actual.

    Because you yourself was just earlier brought up real things (ontologically real, in fact) when referring to property. (In fact glancing at the FAQ, I see several repetitions about things being physical.) It’s like if someone had a rant about math, and then suddenly switched to talking about marketing and then complained about others suffering from some kind of math obsession when they all heard your use of the word “ad” as meaning addition, not advertisement. It’s not them “hearing” physical, it’s you setting up physical as the context and then not making it more clear that you’re switching tracks.

    So opportunity costs – profits intentionally foregone by an investor in hypothetical investments that he did not actually make – as as “real” as the protection provided by a night watchman.

    Based upon what? So far all I can tell is that you “like” one hypothetical but not the other.

    Likewise with teaching. While the passing of knowledge can philosophically be an actual, there’s no real way of confirming it. Thus the results of the teacher or educator are always hypothetical, and what did one say…
    Hypotheticals (again) can be useful in theorizing and can be said to be ‘real’ in a sense; but they are – especially intentionally foregone ones – by definition not actual.
    A quick word search of the FAQ seems to show no “rule of thumb” for whether something is “actual” or not (or at least it’s buried somewhere and not a readily identifiable question). So again, why are you complaining about others failing to grasp your point when you’re not providing free telepath hats?

    While it is doubtless true that my editorial choices could be improved and perhaps even are atrocious, I cannot explain things to people until they reach the point where it is possible for them to understant what I am explaining.

    I really have to leave it to others to determine how much of the incomprehension on the subject is because of my editorial incompetence and how much is because of the incapacity of certain readers to understand. But I am working on the editorial end of it all the time.

    I’ve tried explaining to you very specific instances where your editorial flaws are hindering. Still, while there will always be some that are unreachable, if it’s common enough and from those who are quite bright (not me, I mean TM Lutas at least, he’s demonstrated quite adequate understanding in many things, I’m sure there’s some others who might be as well), then like the saying goes about “the common factor in all your bad relationships”, which is more likely? That all those people are that dumb or married to sinfulness… or that you did that bad of a job?

    Besides, what incentive are your providing for people to even try to grasp your point? “You’re too dumb to read my book” is not usually a selling point, and certainly not for one of charity in understanding.

  • Zippy says:

    natewinchester:

    … if you’re using English then you shouldn’t be surprised that people will leap immediately to the standard English meaning of words …

    Give it a rest, Nanny McPhee. And own your own bafflement, which arises at least in part from your admitted failure to read what I actually wrote. Any further off-topic comments about what an awful writer I am will be deleted (whether or not there are substantive questions sprinkled amidst the whining), not because I particularly care personally but because drama queen behavior like you are exhibiting here reduces the signal to noise ratio to below the standards of this blog.

    A quick word search of the FAQ seems to show no “rule of thumb” for whether something is “actual” or not

    Labor is addressed in Q17, and what constitutes actual property which can collateralize non-recourse loans is addressed throughout but also specifically in Q37-39. Folks who have actually read the FAQ with a mind toward understanding its content might know that.

    What’s a good rule of thumb for any random person to determine whether a “could have happened” is an actual or not?

    No “could have happened but did not” is an “actually happened”. It isn’t that the night watchman could have watched over his employer’s property but chose to drink at the bar: he actually did watch over his employer’s property. In the “could have” case he is not owed wages; in the “actually did” case he is owed wages.

    For labor the question is “did the worker actually do the work, or not?” If he actually did the work for the benefit of and at the behest of his employer, then he is owed wages for actually doing what he actually did.

    For actual property the question is “does it have an owner and can it be possessed, repossessed, bought, rented, and sold?” If it is actual property, it can be rented in a contract for profit. If it isn’t actual property it is morally illicit to charge “rent” in the form of profitable interest payments.

  • By this point it all gains a whiff of arbitrariness. Why is what “could have happened” with the night watchman involved “actual” while what “could have happened” when anyone else (like a banker, or a loaner) not “actual”? What’s a good rule of thumb for any random person to determine whether a “could have happened” is an actual or not? (other than “just ask Zippy”)

    This is a complex subject. There is no “rule of thumb”, and instead of just ask Zippy, you could try asking Aquinas. Or Google.

    I like you Nate, but it’s pretty clear that Zippy has been using Aquinas’s definitions of words for the entirety of his usury series, and frankly I think your conduct has been worse than his. If you want to criticize his usury posts then look up what Aquinas means when he says things.

    If you want Zippy to explain his words, say so instead of challenging him and doubling down when he’s demonstrated that you’re misunderstanding him.

  • Zippy says:

    In the comments above Arkansas Reactionary and I discuss a “privation” theory of property rental: the theory that a proprietor is entitled to rent because the renter deprives the proprietor of the use of his property and that, because this is specifically what justifies charging rent under the theory, the rent charged must correspond to this privation in order to be just.

    Aquinas though explicitly rejects “privation” theories of pricing:

    And it is similar regarding buying, for the buyer of something justly pays for it as much as it is worth and not as much as the seller is hurt by its privation. — De Malo

  • Where in De Malo is that?

    It surprises me, because Aquinas seems to say the opposite here:

    http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3077.htm#article1

  • […] claims. But a borrower’s promise to repay principal which has been consumed is not property. A mere promise of apples is not itself actually apples. And the historical fact that there used to exist some apples which were consumed is not — […]

  • […] broadly understood, is simply to have a legitimate claim staked in some actual property.  There are many different forms of […]

  • […] banking system in actual property as opposed to securitizing personal promises as if they were property, it is important to acknowledge that usury is not the only way in which financiers create the fake […]

  • […] you can think of a bank – in the absence of usury – as a big pooling of claims against property.  When a bank loan against property is made, that specific property is added to the pool of […]

  • […] accounting, an “IOU” or “note receivable” can mean a claim against some actual pool of property, or it can mean the securitization through usury of nothing but a promise made by a borrower to […]

  • […]  First, studiously ignore the actual substantive distinction being made (in this case, between actual property which can be alienated from its possessor versus personal IOU’s which cannot).  Next, ascribe a discredited theory on an obscure, […]

  • […] economic theories actively and malevolently suppress clear understanding of the difference, between property – which can be alienated from a person, possessed, repossessed, bought, traded, and sold, and […]

  • […] claims. But a borrower’s promise to repay principal which has been consumed is not property. A mere promise of apples is not itself actually apples. And the historical fact that there used to exist some apples which were consumed or money which […]

  • […] has claims. But a borrower’s promise to repay principal which has been consumed is not property. A mere promise of apples is not itself actually apples. And the historical fact that there used to exist some apples which were consumed or money which […]

  • […] conflation of references to property with actual property often serves the interests (no pun intended) of usurers and other financial hucksters, so it is no […]

  • […] derive their value from the property they impair and the rights involving that property which they assert, as opposed to ‘the paper […]

  • […] ‘national debt’ isn’t debt. Debt is when an institution owes some property (actual property or third party securities) to a […]

  • […] world of day to day life.  Property at one time referred to something real, something which exists in its own right. Thus property could be possessed, repossessed, bought, sold, stolen, consumed, or destroyed […]

  • […] people have been trained by centuries of usury (among other things) to have a hard time distinguishing between an actual thing and the mere idea of a thing. […]

  • […] IP doesn’t count in favor of the contention that ideas can be property. It counts against that […]

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