Chris Cook on Property Protocols

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Chris Cook:

"The first thing to say is that – as that notable jurist and pedant Jeremy Bentham pointed out – “Property” is not an object.

It is to be observed, that in common speech, in the phrase “the object of a man’s property”, the words “the object of “are commonly left out; and by an ellipsis, which, violent as it is, is now become more familiar than the phrase at length, they have made that part of it which consists of the words “a man’s property” perform the office of the whole.

ie Property is a relationship: it is the bundle of rights and obligations which links a subject person to an object.

Secondly, we have become used, at least West of Suez (I shall come back to East of Suez), to the use of the absolute property rights of ‘dominium’ which dates back to the Romans, with roots with the Greeks, and – where I agree with Pirsig that everything went wrong – with Aristotlean ‘subject/object’ metaphysics.

So we are used to two either/or absolute property rights of ownership:

(a) absolute permanent ownership of infinite duration, such as freehold land, and ‘equity’ shares in a joint stock company which confer what has been called the Divine Right of Capital;

(b) absolute temporary use for a defined term (‘date certain’) such as leasehold land, and dated interest-bearing debt or loan-stock such as preference shares..

But of course, it’s not a matter of ‘either/or’ is it? There is at least one further property right which must be accommodated, which is that of use for an indeterminate period, such as an ‘evergreen’ tenancy at will agreement to occupy land or the undated prepay credit instrument which is what actually constitutes currency.

In Scotland (uniquely as far as I know), this indeterminacy occurs in criminal law in the fact that there are three verdicts: ‘guilty’, ‘not guilty’ and ‘not proven’.

But as Martin Hay has pointed out, in his fascinating work on what he calls Chiralkine Logic there are in fact FOUR states, because the zero indeterminate property right may be resolved into two ‘chiral’ states of both/and and neither/nor.

The four states defining economic interaction are:

(0,0) = Not Mine/Not Yours;

(1,0) = Mine/Not Yours

(0,1) = Yours/Not Mine

(1,1) = Both Mine and Yours

But lets park that concept, important though it is, due to the way it will enable complete dis-intermediation in data flows. Unfortunately, Martin is applying his Chiralkine Logic to the existing paradigm of absolute property rights, illustrated by the fact that he has applied for a patent to protect the transaction engine he is building, but which is hopelessly mired in complexity as a result of trying to accommodate existing conflicted property rights, when the system can be defined without them.

But I digress.

My work for fifteen years or more has been in respect of the protocols which define property rights, and the development of protocols which work better in an era of direct instantaneous connection than the conflicting twin peaks of finance capital which essentially put us in the shit we are in.

I have come to the conclusion that these protocols are to be found not in the Western absolutes and Rule of Law but rather in the use of the consensual interactive associative protocols to be found East of Suez.

As has been said, there are as many Sumo wrestlers in the US as there are attorneys in Japan, and that is because when trust is assumed, and ‘face’ matters, it is an order of magnitude easier to write simpler consensual agreements to a common purpose, than to write prescriptive adversarially negotiated contracts based upon the necessity to protect the interests of the holders of conflicting absolute property rights.

As Lessig puts it, Law is Code.

Consensual machine programmable interactive protocols are already emerging, and I use the word Nondominium to describe how these may be used to define rights to use and usufruct in a way that replaces dominant positive rights over others, with negative veto rights.

When linked to generic use of the prepay (‘stock’) credit instrument – with indeterminate duration – which pre-dates the banking system, I believe that a new economic paradigm will rapidly come to replace the existing paradigm and dispel the Myth of Debt." (via email, March 2014)