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Why Private Property? Politics of property and its alternatives
June 20, 2017 @ 8:45 am - June 21, 2017 @ 6:30 pm
Private property is one of the few axioms on which contemporary liberal democracies rely, and seems so self-evident that it is rarely questioned. Yet the political history of modernity shows that the “obviousness” of this “natural” right has given rise to numerous debates and conflicts. In a social context characterized by a highly unequal distribution of capital ownership, many 19th century thinkers, from Mill to Marx and Proudhon, notoriously denunciated the abuses caused by the “absolute” right the owners have on their property.
Besides this old strand of criticisms and debates (which are becoming relevant again), contemporary developments in social institutions and practices as well as in the theory of justice raise new problems and challenges for critical thought on property. Should the distribution of resources be based on individual merit? And in that case, what is “merit”? Is inheritance (i.e. appropriation without labour) a legitimate institution? How to combine private property and public interest in the case of education, heritage protection, or access to medication protected by patents in health emergencies? Does the private property right include the right to destroy or abuse a good in order to raise prices for instance? Or the right to relocate some capital with no other reason than to raise profits? Can we grant inventors and creators intellectual property rights on what they have created without granting them harmful rents? And above all, considering the recent technological developments that facilitate the ability to access a service or a resource on the ownership of that resource, is the old paradigm of private property still adapted to the “age of access”?
In this conference, we want to address the many questions that shape current debates concerning the right to private property.