In this article we will discuss about Property:- 1. Definition of Property 2. Characteristics of Property 3. Stages in Development 4. Psychological and Social Aspects 5. Principal Forms of the Institution.
Definition of Property:
Morris Ginsberg defines property thus:
“Property may be described as the set of rights and obligations which define the relations between individuals or groups in respect of their control over material things (or persons treated as things). The essential point in the notion of property is that there is a recognised right of control over things vested in a particular person or persons, and within various limits, excluding interference by others. By saying that there is a recognised right, we mean that there are regular sanctions attached to it, that is, approved methods of dealing with infringements. The amount and nature of the control with which owners are endowed varies considerably in different legal systems, and there is not always precise correspondence between legal theory and economic usage”.
According to Kigsley Davis, property “consists of the rights and duties of one person or group (the owner) as against all other persons and groups with respect to some scarce good. It is thus exclusive, for it sets off what is mine from what is thine; but it is also social, being rooted in custom and protected by law”.
It appears from these two definitions that ‘property’ refers to the whole pattern of rights and obligations with respect to the possession, use, acquisition and disposal of scarce valuable things. It is to fee noted that the term ‘property’ is used both for rights and for the things in which rights are held. The context should always make it clear which reference is intended.
Characteristics of Property:
Understood in terms of rights, the following are the characteristics of property rights:
(i) Property can be transferred by its owner by way of sale, exchange or gift.
(ii) The things in which an individual may hold property rights may be both tangible and intangible. Examples of the latter are copyrights of books or goodwill of a business.
(iii) Property rights do not necessarily imply actual use and enjoyment of the relevant things by the owner. Law makes a distinction between ownership and possession. The many kinds of property right may be summarized as possession, use, alteration, using up, usufruct, income and disposition. These are explained ad seriatim.
A tenant has the right of possession or occupation. The right of possession leads to various rights of use, depending on the nature of the object. Thus, the borrower of a book from a public library may use the book for his study. But rights of use do not include all rights of alteration.
For example, the book-borrower may not make marginal notes. Likewise, a tenant may not pull down a portion of the building in his occupation without prior permission of the owner.
The right to use up is illustrated by the right of an oil company to take the oil from ground belonging to another. The owner may, of course, get some compensation in return. The right of usufruct may be discussed with reference to the following example. The right to the produce of land may be distinguished from ownership itself, and also from rights of use.
The owner of a mango garden may lease out the fruits of trees in a particular season to another. The lessee in this case has rights to the produce of mange trees without any rights whatsoever to the use of the land for other purposes. Such rights are called rights of usufruct.
The rights to income may be explained with reference to royalties received by the author of a book from his publisher who publishes the book for profit. Rights of disposition include the right to destroy as well as the right to alienate—that is, the right of alienation by gift, sale or lease.
(iv) The possession of property may mean possession of power over others. Money and such other tangibles as well as intangibles like one’s good reputation may be bases of power.
“The possession of exclusive rights to something that is scarce and valuable necessarily implies the possession of power over others who also desire the scarce and valuable things … The amount of power which gives to the owner depends not only upon the definition of his rights but also on the intensity of others’ needs for that which is owned”.
(v) The institution of property is, like all other institutions, a normative patterning of the relations between individuals and/or groups. Thus, property owners are under the obligation to use property according to social norms. Similarly, those who do not possess a particular property right are under the general obligation not to infringe upon the right of the possessor.
Stages in the Development of the Property System:
The development of the property system has been a subject of speculation for a long time. Different writers have indicated the stages differently. We may consider some of these views.
Vinogradoff appears to distinguish four principal phases:
First, the formation of property in tribal and communal surroundings.
Second, the application to landed property of the notion of tenure.
Third, the growth of individual appropriation. Fourth, the restrictions which are being imposed upon such appropriation by collectivist tendencies in modern times.
Hobhouse speaks of three phases in the growth of property system. During the first phase, there is little social differentiation, little inequality. Economic resources are owned in common, or are strictly controlled by the community.
During the second phase, wealth increases, great inequalities appear and individual or collective ownership escapes from community control. During the third phase, a conscious attempt is made to diminish inequality and to restore community control.
This scheme of Hobhouse has some resemblances to the Marxist distinction into three stages: that of primitive classless society, followed by class differentiation and the growth of inequality, and the final stage of a classless society at a higher level.
Many recent writers have emphasized the complexity of property systems and have rejected the notion of a unilinear evolution. There have been a number of comparative studies of property in primitive societies which illustrate the difficulty of determining the character and extent of property rights.
Recent sociological studies of property in industrial societies have been largely concerned with two aspects: first, the distribution of property and its social effects; second, the separation between the ownership and the control of industrial enterprises in modern capitalist societies.
Studies on distribution of property indicate that there has been some movement towards greater equality in many of the advanced industrialised societies since the beginning of the twentieth century, though it has been more marked in respect of incomes than in respect of property. The equalisation of incomes has proceeded more rapidly as a result of high progressive taxation and the expansion of social services.
The separation of ownership and control in industrial enterprises is a, phenomenon which has attracted much attention from sociologists concerned with the development of modern capitalism. It has resulted from the extension of the joint stock principle. The industrial capitalists of the early nineteenth century were both owners and managers of their enterprises.
But as the enterprises grew larger, more and more capital had to be drawn from outside. This was made possible by the sale of shares among innumerable shareholders.
Psychological and Social Aspects of Property:
It is still not conclusively proved as to whether the desire to acquire and amass property has anything to do with the instinct of man. Some say that it is instinctive. Some dispute this contention and hold that it is a craze conditioned by circumstances.
Morris Ginsberg argues that the interest in ownership of property is very complex and that it has its roots in several fundamental needs. To us, a commodity acquires value for two different reasons. When a commodity directly satisfies our need, it is naturally valuable to us. Our consumption articles and even consumer durables fall within this category.
There are, however, some commodities which do not satisfy our needs either directly or indirectly, but these are, nevertheless, considered to be valuable. For example, gold, diamond and many such stones are considered to be very precious and people are prepared to offer fancy prices in order to acquire these metals or stones.
Apparently, these have nothing to do with the satisfaction of our needs, either directly or indirectly. Why, then, are these considered to be so valuable? These have come to acquire value “through a process of conditioning or assimilation”. Since these are scarce, those who acquire possession of these scarce commodities to the exclusion of many others find pleasure in, and feel proud of, such possessions.
Disappointment sets in when we fail to acquire them, and we feel happy and proud when we have them. “In this way, habits of attachment may be formed in relation to objects which may have no intrinsic or prima facie attractiveness”.
Such objects “gather around them groups of emotional dispositions, including especially the prospective and retrospective emotions of desire, hope, fear, anxiety, disappointment, as well as pleasure in attainment, and joy in mastery”.
Ginsberg argues that all these primary needs, which “may serve as nuclei for the sentiments of property”, are “aided by the tendency to confuse means and ends”. That which is essentially a means to an end, is accepted uncritically as an end in itself.
In One Dimensional Man Herbert Marcuse points to this kind of distortion in perspective and says that an individual feels gratified by the satisfaction of ‘false needs’ which are largely imposed by the mass media.
A feverish attempt to acquire various types of electronic gadgets even at a great personal sacrifice of many other essential goods is an example of pursuit of ‘false needs’. It is, thus, obvious that “interest in ownership is very complex and has its roots in several fundamental needs”.
Comparative jurisprudence teaches us that there are three original forms of acquiring property. First, goods; may be taken directly from nature. Second, goods may obtained by the sweat of one’s brow. Third, possession of goods may be obtained by the assertion of power over other people.
“In all these forms of acquisition, but especially in the last, the self-assertive tendencies of man come into play. Men come to love things because they have put their energy into them, and because they are instruments of general satisfaction, but especially because they give them power over nature and other human beings.
It is not so much the direct use of things, as the exercise of power, which they at once embody and facilitate, that gives to property its tremendous’ drive, and makes it one of the roots of ambition” If, therefore, we look at the subject from a psychological point of view, property arises, not from a direct need to acquire and possess, but from the interweaving of myriad basic interests with self-regard and self-assertion.
We may also look at property ownership from another angle. “Ethically, the function of property is to provide the material conditions of a free, secure, and purposeful life”. In actual practice, however, this object remains unfulfilled in the case of a large majority of the population in all societies.
The reasons for this failure of the economic system to ensure carefree and meaningful life lie deep in the history and psychology of property. It is clear from the brief outline of the evolution of property that ownership of property has gradually passed on in the hands of a limited number of people, resulting in deprivation of the bulk of the population from ownership rights.
Another parallel development has been the gradual institutionalization of the rights of property. Several consequences flow from this.
The owners of property have come to enjoy their property rights without any interference from others. They have also been able to exercise power and domination over those bereft of property. To make matters worse still, the bulk of the population are denied the opportunities, in the context of minute division of labour calling for specialisation, for making work a vehicle for “self-expression and self-fulfillment”.
Ginsberg, therefore, concludes that “as far as the masses of workers are concerned, property cannot be said to have fulfilled its primary social functions of providing security and permanence, a basis of freedom and initiative, and an opportunity for the active expression of faculty”.
The solution to this intricate problem lies in devising appropriate methods for curbing and restricting within prescribed limits the opportunities of a few to establish domination over others.
At the same time, conditions must be created so as to enable the vast majority of the population to release their creative talents and make their lives joyous and meaningful. Obviously, the institution of property must be suitably modified, so as to serve these twin purposes.
Principal Forms of the Institution of Property:
Broadly, we may distinguish common, collective and individual property. Common property is that over which several individuals have rights. They, however, hold this property collectively as against the rest of the community. The rights of sharing this property are defined by customary rules of distribution and supervised by the community.
There are numerous forms of collective property, the variation being based on the type of collective entity: that is, whether it is a private corporation, or a quasi-public corporation, or a public corporation. Finally, in private property the control of property is vested ill an individual, subject, of course, to varying types of control imposed by the society in respect of its enjoyment, alienation and bequest?
It is difficult to make a reliable assessment as to when and among whom a particular ownership right was prevalent. However, the picture which emerges as^ a result of investigations conduct^ by social anthropologists among primitive people may be briefly indicated. Among primitive peoples, private properly is recognized in such things as clothing, implements, dwelling huts or divisions within these huts.
In respect of these sharing is governed by customary rules and by exchange of gifts. With regard to land, there are great variations. Common property prevails among hunters, pastorals and early agriculturists.
With development and expansion of agriculture, the principle of common property is gradually given up. But the abandonment of common property does not, as can be generally expected, lead directly to the acceptance of the principle of private ownership.
On the contrary, “the gainers are the chiefs and the nobles, and we find more and more cases in which the mass of the people become dependent cultivators: slaves, serfs, or tenants of a landed class”. It should, however, be remembered that alongside the emergence of individual ownership, common property also exists in a modified form.
“The principle of private property is seen more closely at work among the pastoral people where communal restrictions are probably less effective and the chances for individual accumulation of property greater. At the stage in which ‘barbarism’ is beginning to pass into ‘civilization’, the different principles are found interwoven, and the seigniorial and the communal principles are still fairly balanced. Thereafter, the tendency is for the preponderance of power to pass to the nobles, leaving the commoners in an increasingly dependent position”.
Gradually, feudalism appears. There are varieties of feudal tenure which appear in different places according as circumstances demand. Eventually, industrial revolution demolishes the foundation of feudalism, paving the way for the establishment of the capitalistic order.
Explanations about the nature and characteristic features of capitalism vary. Capitalism has also, like all other social institutions, undergone changes in response to environmental changes and historical conditions. Keeping this in view, we may consider a few definitions in order to find out the sociological significance of capitalism.
Sidney Webb defines capitalism as “that particular stage in the development of industry and legal institutions, in which the bulk of the workers find themselves divorced from the ownership of the instruments of production, in such a way as to pass into the position of wage- earners whose subsistence, security and personal freedom seem dependent on a relatively small proportion of the nation; namely, those who own, and through their ownership, control the organisation 6f the land, the machinery and labour force of the community, and do so with the object of making for themselves individual and private gains”.
Hobhouse defines it as “the employment in the production of goods for sale of those who have not the means of production by some who have or can command this means”. From a sociological point of view, the essence of capitalism lies in the relationship that develops between those who own the means of production and those who do not, between those who enrich themselves at the cost of the bulk of the population.
In course of time, the people press for removal of the inequities of the system by extending communal control over capitalist enterprises through legislative and administrative regulations.
As a consequence, there has been an extension of the collective types of p-poetry in the forms of the co-operative systems and of public ownership, an increase in the public control of quasi-public bodies, and public ownership of ‘natural monopolies’.
At the same time, the workers have organised themselves into trade unions and they seek thereby to check the attempts of owners to exploit the workers. Their attempts are, generally speaking, considerably successful.
It may also be noted that socialism as an ideal and as a programme of work has emerged as a reaction to the inequities of the capitalist system. Opinions differ as regards the meaning of socialism. Some socialists advocate social ownership of the means of production while some advocate merely social control and regulation of enterprises in private ownership.
The form and extent of social control “belongs to the bitterest controversies of today”. Various alternative proposals are suggested, debated and even tried with an eye to the attainment of the twin objectives of distributive justice and economic growth.