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Property is about the relationship between agents and things (resources or a processes). These relationships are institutionalized, meaning that they are codified as norms or rules or laws, are made public and are widely accepted by everyone in a social setting.

As Jeremy Bentham pointed out, property is not an object or thing, but a relationship: the bundle of rights and obligations which connect the subject individual to an object, such as land (real property) or increasingly, knowledge (intellectual property). While there are many types of rights and obligations, this proposal identifies four key classes of stakeholder rights:

  • Use – exclusive or otherwise
  • Usufruct – the fruits of use
  • Management
  • Custody – stewardship.

Property also has its psychological roots as attachment, possessiveness, security, need of control, self-identity, personal investment (time, energy, skills), sense of belonging, etc. People seek to satisfy their primary psychological needs by forming relations with other people concerning the access, use or control of things. These relations can also be formalized as between individuals and abstractions, such as the State. Once formalized as norms, rules or laws, they essentially instantiate rights of individual(s) over a thing. The notion is intimately related to the notion of responsibility, which speaks about limitations in exercising our rights over a thing.

Property and value

Value is what drives people towards valuables, what moves them into action to acquire or use a valuable, what makes people want a valuable. Thus, a value experience is the first condition on which the notion of property is built. Once someone wants something for a specific use, a set of rights and obligations secures this use. If we think in terms of economic processes, securing rights over a valuable (a resource, an asset) means to make the process (fabrication for example) possible, stable, predictable. If the process determines the value experience, as in I want/need something in order to fabricate something else, it is that something else, the result of the fabrication process that is in essence the cause of the value experience. The individual values the first thing because it gets him/her to the second thing. If the process to get to the second thing is not secure, the first thing is not (or less) valuable.

Property and distribution

A distribution system in society determines how valuables flow from one agent to another. Property, as a set of rights and obligations, makes distribution possible. It determines the status of a valuable at time t1 and at time t2, after a transaction, which is the action that constitutes the flow of this valuable from one agent to another. For example, if a thing is under the custody of agent1 at time t1 and that thing is needed by agent2 at a later time, the two agents can arrange a transaction to transfer rights from agent1 to agent2, thus changing the status on this ting, which makes it possible for agent2 to engage with this thing, perhaps to use it in a fabrication process as a part. Distribution is a change in status, a transfer of rights and obligations associated with that thing, which requires a mechanism for assessing which agent has rights over a thing at time t. Distribution is not possible without the notion of property.

Various forms of property

  • private property - under the total control of an agent. Private resources cannot, by definition, be captured by internal agents, and that is protected by a higher authority such as the state. They can be captured by external agents unless the agent controlling the resource is autonomous, see nondominium.
  • public property - under the control of the State, intended for general access, under certain rules to prevent congestion, deterioration or depletion. Access may require proof of citizenship or residence.
  • shared property- susceptible to capture by agents both inside and outside the organization. Power over such resources can be distributed, to make it difficult to be captured or privatized.
    • commons: pool of tangible but immaterial (non-rivalrous) resources that may have rules regulating their use (ex. licence agreements).
    • pool of shareable - pool of tangible and material (rivalrous) resources that are intended to be shared within a network/community, under various property regimes, individually governed based on property regime and intrinsic characteristics of the item, designed for preservation or perpetual use/access.
    • common-pool resources - pool of tangible and material (rivalrous) resources, mostly consumables, that are governed in bulk by a network/community, with rules related to their intrinsic characteristics that are designed for preservation or perpetual use/access.
    • condominium - division of a resource into parts that are privately owned, with some governance required to preserve the whole (infrastructure, support structures, overall integrity, etc.).
    • nondominium: doesn't need the protection of the state or a powerful entity.

Property and motivation and incentive systems

Within an organizational setting (OVN or other), motivation and incentive systems depend, to a great extent on the property model that an organization uses. In other words, once the property regime is fixed, only a limited number of motivation and incentive models are possible on top of that (call it economic model or business model). In turn, this determines people's values and behaviour within that organization.

Property and organizations

Organizational structure greatly depends on the property regime(s) that it adapts, on which only a limited number of motivation and incentive systems can be design or implemented (see section above).


Within the Sensorica OVN affiliates distinguish between commons, reserved for shared immaterial assets, see Pool of shareables.

See also

Capture resistant