Working Paper #81

More and Better: Resources Defined Through Property and Exchange


7 pages, 143 KB

Whether something is a “resource” emerges from its ability to satisfy wants, which in turn emerges from appropriation and exchange. Without taking an object out of the commons, assuming a right over it, and experimenting, we can’t know how much is “enough, and as good.” Appropriation brings objects into a knowledge-generating process that helps us know what “enough, and as good” means. Egalitarian objections to appropriation are also overstated in that the latecomers rather than the original appropriators are the ones who get to enjoy the cornucopia that a society based on private property and exchange has produced.

I am grateful to my colleague William Collins and our students in a Jan Term 2016 special topics course at Samford University for conversations and discussions that motivated this paper and to Michael Munger, James Otteson, David Schmidtz, and participants in the “Future of Classical Liberalism” conference at the University of Chicago Law School in May 2016 for comments and suggestions. Seminar participants at Hampden-Sydney College, Geoffrey Lea in particular, also provided useful comments, and students in the 2017 version of the aforementioned Jan Term course provided useful comments as the final version of the paper neared completion. All errors are mine.

Art Carden is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, California, and Assistant Professor of Economics at Samford University.