Private property

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Not to be confused with Property rights (economics).

Private property is a legal designation of the ownership of property by non-governmental legal entities.[1] Private property is distinguishable from public property, which is owned by a state entity; and collective property, which is owned by a group of non-governmental entities.[2] Private property is further distinguished from personal property, which refers to property for personal use and consumption.

Categorization of collective property can be indeterminable, such as in a not-for-profit private university; or determinable, such as in the case of a legal partnership.


Prior to the 18th century, "property" was generally used in reference to land ownership. In England, "property" did not have a legal definition until the 17th century.[3]

In the 19th century, the economist and philosopher Karl Marx provided an influential view on the history and development of private property. In Marx's definition, "private property" refers to ownership of productive (value-producing) assets, termed the "means of production", by a small group of owners who received the value generated by the means of production. In a capitalist economy, the surplus value takes the form of profit, in which a class exists that subsists on the resulting property income.[4] This conception of private property has been influential for many socialist political movements and economic theories since the 19th century.

Economic perspectives[edit]

Liberal perspectives[edit]

Economic liberals (defined as those who support a private sector-driven market economy) consider private property to be essential for the construction of a prosperous society. They believe private ownership of land ensures the land will be put to productive use and its value protected by the landowner. If the owners must pay property taxes, this forces the owners to maintain a productive output from the land to keep taxes current. Private property also attaches a monetary value to land, which can be used to trade or as collateral. Private property thus is an important part of capitalization within the economy.[5]

Austrian School perspective[edit]

Austrian School economists Ludwig Von Mises and Friedrich August Hayek argued that private property rights are a requisite for what they called "rational" economic calculation and that the prices of goods and services cannot be determined accurately enough to make efficient economic calculation without having clearly defined private-property rights.[6]

Socialist perspectives[edit]

A plaque marking state property in Jūrmala.

In general, socialists view private property relations as limiting the potential of productive forces in the economy. They believe private property becomes obsolete when it concentrates into centralized, socialized institutions based on private appropriation of revenue until the role of the capitalist becomes redundant. With largely reduced capital accumulation from the original class of owners, private property in the means of production is to be replaced with a free association based on public or common ownership of socialized assets.[7]

In Marxian economics and socialist politics, there is distinction between "private property" and "personal property". The former is defined as the means of production in reference to private ownership over an economic enterprise based on socialized production and wage labor; the latter is defined as consumer goods or goods produced by an individual.[8][9] Prior to the 18th century, private property usually referred to land ownership. When Marx called for the abolition of private property, he was not referring to privately owned personal property such as clothing and furniture that was not used to produce the "social wealth," but to productive property.[10]

Personal property versus means of production[edit]

There is some connection between personal property and means of production. Personal property is considered private property that is movable, as almost an extension of one's person and does include property from which one has the right to exclude others. These objects can range from CDs to houses, depending on one's perspective, but definitions tend to include personal items such as clothing, books, food, or records. However where personal property explicitly differs from private property is in its productive capacity. Not all forms of personal property have productive capacity, whereas private property like land and machines might have some productive capacity. From the socialist perspective, private property refers to capital or means of production that is owned by a business or few individuals and operated for their profit. As mentioned above, personal property refers to tangible items and possessions individuals own. Socialism does not advocate the abolition of personal property, believing that it is an acceptable form of ownership of an item, unlike private property.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ McConnell, Campbell; Stanley Brue and Sean Flynn (2009). Economics. Boston: Twayne Publishers. p. G-22. ISBN 978-0-07-337569-4. 
  2. ^ "?". 
  3. ^ The Meaning and Definition of "Property" in Seventeenth-Century England, by G. E. Aylmer, 1980. Oxford University Press. Past and Present, No. 86 (Feb., 1980), pp. 87-97.
  4. ^ "MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Terms: (Pr)". 
  5. ^ Connell, Shaun. "Property Rights 101: The Foundation of Capitalism Explained". Capitalism Institute. Retrieved 25 October 2012. 
  6. ^ "?". 
  7. ^ The Political Economy of Socialism, by Horvat, Branko. 1982. Chapter 1: Capitalism, The General Pattern of Capitalist Development (P.15-20)
  8. ^ Gewirth, Alan. (1996). The Community of Rights. University of Chicago Press. p 168
  9. ^ Capital, Volume 1, by Marx, Karl. From "Chapter 32: Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation": "Self-earned private property, that is based, so to say, on the fusing together of the isolated, independent laboring-individual with the conditions of his labor, is supplanted by capitalistic private property, which rests on exploitation of the nominally free labor of others, i.e., on wage-labor. As soon as this process of transformation has sufficiently decomposed the old society from top to bottom, as soon as the laborers are turned into proletarians, their means of labor into capital, as soon as the capitalist mode of production stands on its own feet, then the further socialisation of labour and further transformation of the land and other means of production into socially exploited and, therefore, common means of production, as well as the further expropriation of private proprietors, takes a new form. That which is now to be expropriated is no longer the labourer working for himself, but the capitalist exploiting many laborers."
  10. ^ Norman Levine. (1991) Introduction to Györgi Lukács, The process of democratization. SUNY Press. p 8