Category Archives: occupancy and use

Are Hotels Immoral?

I’ve been trying to collect my contributions to various discussion threads, where the off-the-cuff stuff seems to advance the conversation, and I’m presenting them in the form of one-sided conversations, with just enough of the contributions of others to give context. Here’s a bit from Reddit, on the question of occupancy and use property norms:
Q. Are Hotels Immoral?
A. No. If someone is actively maintaining a hotel, then they are obviously occupying and using it. A large hotel is likely to be a collectively owned affair, like most large enterprises under usufructory ownership.
A. Can that somebody hire people to help him or her occupy it and maintain it?
Q. Well, not without leaving the regime of occupancy and use property. It is possible that there might be reasons to respect such an arrangement in the midst of an occupancy-and-use-based community, but at the point where it looks like there is rent-seeking and exploitation of labor going on in a mutualist community, I suspect both the labor force and the customers are likely to start looking elsewhere. Mutualists markets are most likely to manifest profits in the form of a general reduction in costs, and capitalist profits will probably stick out like a sore thumb in that context.
Contracts can solve many underlying problems, and there are plenty of other ways to establish rules for human interaction. Mutualist markets would have their particular character, and forms of profit, precisely because the rules for interaction within them are governed by norms of reciprocity, “cost the limit of price,” etc., rather than the norms dominant within capitalist markets.
Most uses of natural resources or real property have a basic cycle to them. For example, it is expected that we will be out of our homes as much as we are in them. A home is, in part, a fixed place where we keep the stuff we don’t want or need to carry around all day — just as it is, in part, a place where we sleep, a potentially private space, etc. If we’re talking about agriculture, then it is expected that the land we are using will lie fallow sometimes, because of seasonal cycles or crop rotation. The folks running a hotel will be there, day in and day out, while guests will come and go, and staff will maintain the hotel for themselves and the guests alike.
Q. Doesn’t that seem somewhat arbitrary, especially for things that have multiple uses?
A. Not particularly, since all we need to establish is that something is being used according the natural patterns of someform of use.
These use cycles are determined by the usual demands and conditions of particular kinds of resource use.
The argument against mutualist hotels depends on an understanding of “occupancy and use” which I’ve never seen a mutualist advance, and which also appears very different from the ways we customarily think about these issues now.
Presumably, though, any new process will also have its logical cycles. And, of course, experimentation is something we’ve done before, and should have no trouble recognizing as a use.
Actually, I’ve already given a number of examples. Cycles for agricultural use are determined by a mix of seasonal factors and developing conventions regarding “best practices” for crop rotation, fallow periods, etc. Our mutualist hotel will have guests who come and go, primarily for short stays, and hosts who are relatively stable. Etc. If I’m experimenting with a different agricultural method, then the nature of the experiment will determine how long I put resources to that use, and how much of the time during the experiment some or all of the resources might be idle. If I’m brewing small-batch beer, each experimental cycle will tend to be considerably shorter than an agricultural cycle — unless perhaps I’m aging a batch.
It’s a simple standard, easily adaptable to a range of resources and uses.
This all started because somebody thought mutualists thought hotels were “immoral.” That’s just a version of the “mutualists will take your house when you nip out for a quart of milk” claim, and both seem to fall rather decisively before the fact that occupancy and use always seems to involve some pattern of absence and presence, fairly predictably tied to the particular resources and the particular uses. Now, in some cases, that means that knowing whether or not a resource is currently in use might take a little research, but we expect that with all property regimes, so that can’t really be a very serious objection.
Now, the “why” of occupancy and use comes from the proudhonian critique of property theories. Nothing stronger seems to hold up to scrutiny.

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On occupancy and use

[This piece first appeared at the Forums of the Libertarian Left, in a thread on “Occupancy and Use.” It seems to add enough to the current series on mutualist land tenure to repost here. The thread began with some very basic questions about how occupancy and use land tenure would play out, and how to respond to the common silliness about people out shopping losing their homes to mutualists, etc.]

With any of the basic principles of “property,” you’re going to have to eventually confront a bunch of messy details before you’ve got the “anarchic common law” that could justly regulate it. There’s certainly nothing self-evident about how true lockean and neo-lockean property would actually work. In the homesteading model, “something” of the person is “mixed” with unowned resources, which annexes those resources to the person. Neo-lockeans throw up their hands because they can’t make practical heads or tails of the “enough and as good” proviso (and generally ignore the proviso against waste), but, arguably, the provisos are a lot clearer and more clearly practicable than the mechanism of appropriation. Of course, neo-lockeans don’t focus on appropriation anyway, skipping ahead from the “state of nature” to the exchange economy, where division of labor and exchange will have effects virtually “as good” as proviso-appropriation. But, yikes! If the original standard was impracticable, then how hard to practice is its virtual equivalent? Rather than basing itself on a principle that’s about as close to self-evidently universal as you’re going to get—and then confronting the problems of applying the principle—neo-lockean property simply abandons the principle, and asserts that which is far from self-evident: that an exchange economy in which the appropriation rights of others are simply not considered will have virtually the same effect as one in which appropriation is direct and guided by the provisos. Seems like an easy way to go astray. And, sure enough, true lockean property is virtually non-rivalrous (and amenable, at least in principle, to adjustment to account for long-term sustainability and ecological effects, for which “good fences” are hardly a solution), while neo-lockean property is rivalrous by definition, and inflexible (mostly unconcerned, really) with regard to the material, systemic complexities of actual property in the real world.

Compared to all of that, how difficult a principle is “occupancy and use”? Take the lockean provisos seriously, and add the fact that natural processes “unmix” all the while—observe that anything in perpetuity is about as un-natural a principle as you can imagine—and you can derive it from the same roots as neo-lockean theory, with less opportunistic reasoning and jimmying of the basics.

The straw-man depictions from propertarians probably reflect a basic difference in political aims and cultures. Mutualists are not occupancyandusitarians: our theory of real property comes a couple of steps after our account of “self-ownership” or “property in person,” and it is certainly not prior to the principle of reciprocity. You could, no doubt, construct a mutualist account in which “all rights are property rights,” but the “property” certainly wouldn’t have the exclusive, perpetual character of most propertarian systems. From a propertarian perspective, the notion that property isn’t forever—or isn’t at least dependent on the intentions, however inert, of the proprietor—seems outrageous, so there really isn’t that much difference between moving into your house when you nipped out for a carton of milk and opening the land of some distant holding company to occupation by the landless. Having jettisoned the provisos, and no longer being able to fall back on the actual homesteading mechanism (the effects of which market exchange is supposed to approximate), neo-lockean theory doesn’t have a lot of guidelines to fall back on, so it makes a virtue of being “tough, but fair.” If you question the “universal right of first-come, first-served” stuff, chances are the propertarian isn’t even going to see a problem.

Anyway, apart from any mutualist reimagination of property, possessory occupancy and use conventions are going to be based on the principle of reciprocity. When propertarians insist that without their form of property, mutualists will “steal” anything that nailed down, my first question has to be: Dude? Is that the way you imagine the Golden Rule playing out?

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Filed under John Locke, mutualism, occupancy and use, property