Operational Property

In Dissecting Propertarianism I state that I currently believe that the core Propertarian proposition is :

Libertarian/Misesian economics is a pseudoscience because it uses induction (scientific method) rather than operationalism.

I then request concrete examples. It sounds to me like Propertarianism might have something to do with property, right? Can property be formulated operationally? How do we do that?

Libertarian definitions of property usually begin with ‘self-ownership’. In the theory, self-ownership is evident because only you can move your limbs or choose which thoughts to think. You control your body, therefore you own your body. Rothbard uses self-ownership as the first form of property, and then uses the Lockean idea of mixing labor with nature to create ownership. This is known as the Labor Theory of Property (LTP). Because you own yourself, if you then use your body to plant a seed and tend and water it, then the resulting fruit is your property. According to this theory, then locking a man in a cage or forcing him into slave labor is a violation of his ‘liberty’, or his property right in himself.

You will notice that in this  we have abstract concepts that cannot be observed or measured: ownership, rights and liberty. Then these abstract concepts are used as building blocks and to extend out and build all of Libertarian economic theory based on this definition of property. From a review of Ethics of Liberty:

Rothbard, by contrast, reasons by strict deduction from self-evident axioms.


Rothbard is much more consistent and rigorous than even I had imagined.

One illustration must here suffice. As even Macaulay’s schoolboy knows, Rothbard grounded his political ethics on the principle of self-ownership: each person rightfully owns his or her own body. Few libertarians would dissent; but few if any have seen the implications of this principle so clearly as Rothbard.

To many libertarians, freedom of contract is the be-all and end-all. As Rothbard notes, unlimited freedom of contract, far from being a consequence of self-ownership, in fact contradicts it. Given self-ownership, and acquisition of property through “mixing one’s labor” with unowned property, of course, one may enter freely into all sorts of agreements with others.

Notice the givens: self-ownership and the Labor Theory of Property. Do you see how these are fundamental, but untestable (not empirically verifiable) self-evident axioms? Whenever we read a term like self-evident axioms, realize that it is time to start thinking very critically about what follows.  From here Rothbard clearly sees the implications of the principles. Consistently and rigorously. I would add Platonically.

We see the assertion in the review that what Rothbard is doing is scientific, rigorous and consistent. I think this is what CD means when he says that Mises created a pseudoscience. Libertarian economic theory uses the language of science and uses logic to build an entire theory based on self-evident axioms such as self-ownership and the LTP. Where is the science? Where is the measurement? The repeatable experiments? Nowhere. This is Platonism: high theory with no grounding back into reality. It functions logically, as long as you don’t stray outside of the boundaries created by self-evident axioms.

The problem that CD articulates throughout Propertarianism.com is that this definition is a very narrow definition of property. CD includes the term Demonstrated Property in the glossary:

DEMONSTRATED PROPERTY – an expanded definition of property that is based upon the full scope of what humans consider to be property, based upon what they demonstrate that they consider to be property. Demonstrated Property is the definition of ‘property’ used in Propertarianism.

What we are now trying to determine is ‘what humans consider to be property’ operationally. How is that operation performed?

From The Evolution of Cooperation:

2) Property: The scope of those things they act upon, or choose not to act upon, in anticipation of obtaining as inventory (a store of value), constitute their demonstrated definition of property-en-toto.* (See Butler Schaeffer) “That which an organism defends.”

In A Century of Mysticism, CD makes the following statements:

  • “Mises’ intuition was correct that if you cannot reduce an economic statement to human action, it cannot be true.”
  • “Economics is not deducible from human action.”
  • “I try to reduce ethics back to operational statements with testimonial truth”.
  • “Your testimony can be supported by an existence proof if it is reduced to operational statements.”
  • “Mises is wrong that economics is not empirical because we cannot deduce all of economics from our initial assumptions about human action. We can however observe all the possible results of human action, and then find a way to describe it.”

I think I would now like to amend what I believe to be the Propertarian assertion of economic pseudoscience previously formulated in Dissecting Propertarianism:

Libertarian/Misesian economics is a pseudoscience because it creates rational (reasoned) logical arguments deduced from untestable and unprovable assumptions (Platonic rationalism) rather than observable human action (testimonial truth, Instrumentalism, operationalism).

Nowhere in the Libertarian/Misesian system is there an existence proof of property. In operational terms we see this amazingly simple definition of property: That which an organism defends. What is the existence proof that something is your property? You defend it.  That is something that is observable. Defense is an operation.

So we see the Libertarian view of property as very narrow, applying only to physical objects, because of the way in which it is theoretically rationalized. But if we take ‘that which an organism defends’ as an operational definition of property, then we see that ‘property’ expands, to include very intangible forms. Under ‘Propertarianism’ in the glossary:

b) That the human concept of property is broad in scope, encompassing their bodies, their physical property, genetic relations, associations, opportunities, norms, and even cherished memories and beliefs. That humans treat as property all that they have acted to invest in. And that they will only invest in what they can treat as property. And when that entire scope of property is enumerated, all human behavior is reducible to expressions of changes in the the state of property, and all emotions reactions to changes in the state of property.

That leads to a broad definition of property, again from the glossary under Property:


Types of property based upon observations of what people actually consider to be their property:


Personal property: “Things an individual has a Monopoly Of Control over the use of.”

a) Physical Body
b) Actions and Time
c) Memories, Concepts and Identities: tools that enable us to plan and act. In the consumer economy this includes brands.
d) Several Property: Those things external to our bodies that we claim a monopoly of control over.

Cooperative Property: “relationships with others and tools of relationships upon which we reciprocally depend.”
a) Mates (access to sex/reproduction)
b) Children (genetics)
c) Familial Relations (security)
d) Non-Familial Relations (utility)
e) Consanguineous property (tribal and family ties)
g) Racial property (racial ties)
g) Organizational ties (work)
h) Knowledge ties (skills, crafts)
i) Status and Class (reputation)

a) Recorded And Quantified Shareholder Property (physical shares in a tradable asset)
b) ARTIFICIAL PROPERTY: (property created by fiat agreement) Intellectual Property.
c) FORMAL INSTITUTIONAL PROPERTY : Formal (Procedural) Institutions: Our institutions: Religion (including the secular religion), Government, Laws.
d) INFORMAL INSTITUTIONAL PROPERTY: Informal (Normative) Institutions: Our norms: manners, ethics, morals, myths, and rituals that consist of our social portfolio and which make our social order possible.
“Those properties in which we have invested our forgone opportunities, our efforts, or our material assets, in order to aggregate capital from multiple individuals for mutual gain.”

If you are familiar with the Libertarian conceptions of Property, then this list of types of property can be mind-blowing, especially concepts such as ‘informal institutional property’. But, this is where you end up when you leave the Platonic playground and actually begin to instrumentalize economics, and to use operational definitions. As we dig deeper, you will find that many of us already intuit this broad range of property, we intuit what we should and should not defend. I expect that many Libertarians will scoff and retreat back into their little walled garden of property, because this expanded definition is a lot to tackle, but those who can actually understand the difference between science which uses observable phenomenon versus pseudoscience which is based on ‘self-evident axioms‘, will want to dig deeper into the topic.

That is what we plan to do on this site. I welcome your comments, insights and contributions, as we move forward exploring this vast intellectual landscape that CD has exposed for us.

Dissecting Propertarianism

This post is a call for help. Please contribute to the discussion.

The goal is to determine the best way to dissect Propertarianism in order to break it into chunks that are digestible. Do you have any ideas as to the best way to do this?

The thought is to start with operationalism and pseudoscience and relate it to economics. I have watched ‘A Century of Mysticism‘ a number of times. It has taken me 3 sittings to begin to understand where CD is going with operationalism.

I have searched ‘operationalism pseudoscience’ and have yet to find anything that can succinctly define the problem. This page does a good job of showing how the scientific method is insufficient for arriving at knowledge or truth, because the scientific method is inductive reasoning and there is a problem with induction:

I think that CD is getting at this problem: If we induce a number of axioms, we may be able to build a model that works logically, but is flawed underneath. For example, Newtonian physics works on human scale but fails at the quantum level or the galactic level. And I see that reducing to operations seems to get rid of the problem of induction, because we are dealing only with observable truths (contextualized at a given scale) and not trying to induce their causation. If we try to induce the laws of nature from Newtonian observation, our inductions are fundamentally wrong on some levels. If we instead move to operations, we side-step the problem of induction.

 The above is my current understanding of the problem/solution. Maybe I have it wrong.

When I search Propertarianism.com for ‘operationalism pseudoscience’ I get a number of hits, but none of them seem to help me process what CD is getting at. For example, this post:

The above post is about philosophy and history, really but is not concrete enough for me to be able to figure out how to use it. There are a number of posts that are similar in nature, but none are concrete enough for me to grasp. In A Century of Mysticism I get so much more concrete information to put me on the trail, because CD gives concrete examples of how he uses operationalism. The problem is that there is then no concrete relation to Misesian economics. Also, in the search linked above, I cannot really find any understandable explanations of operationalism in the way the CD uses it.

The assertion as I understand it is: Libertarian/Misesian economics is a pseudoscience because it uses induction (scientific method) rather than operationalism.

If this assertion is true, then what are specific examples of inductions in Misesian economics which are incorrect? Proof needed, concrete examples needed.

In the given examples (to the above question) of false induction, how can that conception be replaced by operations?

I cannot seem to grasp the problem or its solution outside of concrete examples. I am not even sure I understand the problem correctly.

I believe that what I am seeking (to understand Propertarianism) is proof of logical induction errors in Misesian economics and proof of how these errors can corrected using operationalism. This should prove to me that I actually understand the problem (pseudoscience in economics) and the solution to it the problem (operational economics). The goal is to develop a functional ability to independently apply the theory to concrete problems. If this problem/solution concept is understood correctly, then it should be possible for those who understand it to develop concrete solutions from the basic concepts, or at least follow examples given by others.

Currently, I am unable to do this.

Do you think I am on the right track?

Thanks for your help!

Video: Propertarianism – A Century Of Mysticism

YouTube video of Curt Doolittle, Propertarianism – A Century Of Mysticism.

Terms and Topics

Division in Libertarianism between Anglo classical liberal psychological school (Hayek) followed by most universities vs Cosmopolitan school typified by German rationalism and Kantianism (Rothbard and Mises). Christian Austrians vs Jewish Austrians.

Doolittle asserts that the Cosmopolitan schools hurting liberty due to “Mises’ pseudoscientific defense”


Launching the Propertarian Forum

On November 3rd, 2014, I, Butch Leghorn, created the WordPress blog for the Propertarian Forum. This blog is an attempt to understand Propertarianism as espoused by Curt Doolittle, to analyze this body of work, and to study the faction that is growing around Doolittle and Propertarianism. Doolittle’s approach is far-reaching and scientific. Understanding this work is very difficult due to its breadth and depth, requiring large amounts of background study.  The Forum is intended to be a centralized repository for study and analysis of Propertarianism, and is an attempt to create a meta analysis, to digest the provided information. It is intended as an open forum for those who are interested in Propertarianism and wish to discuss, criticize or contribute to the analysis of it.

As an open forum, readers are encouraged to contribute and interact. Use the Contact page if you wish to contribute to the project.

An opening salvo of analysis has begun on the Start Here page.