As a sort of follow-up to the Proudhon materials I’m posting, I’ve got three questions for you, that you may find rather interesting (depending on how much you already know on the topic). Either way, please post your answers in the comments, no matter what your political position.
Of course, I have my own opinion on all three, but I will only give it out on the entry where I discuss your answers (if there are enough of them).
Before I ask the questions, I need to first clarify a couple of things, for those who don’t already know them. If you understand them, then feel free to skim to the questions.
The right of property is traditionally divided in three parts:
the right of usus– to use (mix your labour with)
the right of fructus– to take the fruit of that use (such as the actual fruits produced by a tree that one has used)
the right of abusus– to abuse, meaning: to destroy or damage, to sell, to rent, etc.
Usus and fructus together constitute possession, and all three together constitute property. Usus and fructus are necessary conditions for both property and possession.
For the rest of this entry, let’s take as our example a box of macaroni and cheese on the shelf of a chain grocery store (just to be clear here, I am indeed talking about a corporation) in our current capitalist system.
As it sits on the shelf, no one has a recognized right of usus or fructus on that box. We know this because, if anyone grabbed the box, carried it straight home, and tried to use it, he has already committed the crime of shoplifting (whether shoplifting is actually a crime or not is irrelevant here: we’re talking about what is currently recognized). As far as I know, there are no exceptions to this law, and therefore we can safely say that no one has any right to use or benefit from this box.
Since there is no right of usus or fructus over this box, this brings us to the first question:
Q1: Since the box of macaroni and cheese is not property, nor is it possession, what category of owned object is it?
When I buy this box of macaroni and cheese, however, I can go home, cook it, and eat the results. I have usus and fructus over it: in fact, that’s the whole purpose of buying products at a grocery store! And yet, before I bought it, no one had either of these rights. So how did these rights come to exist?
Q2: Since no one can sell what he does not have, how could I be sold the rights of usus and fructus over the box of macaroni and cheese, when no such rights existed? If they were created, how?
(please note that I am looking for a theoretical justification here, not merely a practical one: saying “the rights were created when I bought it” is not enough)
There is no right of usus or fructus over the box, but there is a presumed right of abusus, or at least there is a presumed right of sale. I know this is true because there are tags with prices below the product, and I can buy the product.
But from whom am I buying the product? Who has this right of sale? Not the cashier. If I come up to her in the store while she isn’t working and ask if I can buy a given box of macaroni and cheese from her, she will rightly say that she cannot do such a thing, since it’s not hers. When I come up to the checkstand and purchase the box, she does not put my money in her pocket; she puts it in a till, over which she only has usus, and the money is never hers.
I must therefore come to the conclusion that she is actually acting as a proxy for someone or a group of people who do have this right of sale.
Q3: Who has the right of sale over the box of macaroni and cheese?
(the answer to this question also provides us with the answer to: if shoplifting is actually a form of theft, then who are we stealing from?, since the right to sale is the only right we can steal from anyone when we steal the box of macaroni and cheese)
Keep in mind that for all these questions we’re talking about the box of macaroni and cheese yet unsold, still on the shelf- not after it was bought or before it was shipped to the store.