We are in a world similar to our current world (with the same technology level notably), but there is a huge catch: everything is considered as property, including human beings. Every human child is born as state property, and will be sold later at an age between 10 and 30 depending mainly on their educational success. People obtaining the certificate of eligibility for self-ownership can buy themselves from the state before they are sold, and become self-owners, human beings that aren't the property of anyone else. Only the "best" 1% of the population can have that certificate.
Property (the official name given to human beings that aren't self-owners) can have different status depending on what their owner decides:
- no status: in that case they don't have any freedom, they can't own anything to their name and are forced to obey any order from their owner (as long as it doesn't violate their dignity or integrity). However, unlike the two other status, the owner has an obligation to keep the property alive and relatively healthy.
- self-administration: in that case they don't have to obey direct orders from their owner and may "own" things to their name but they can't move to a place or sign contracts without the approval of their owner. They can't either have voting rights or leadership position in companies.
- freedom: in that case they have the rights of self-administration without the restrictions. They still cannot do things reserved to self-owners however.
The owner may downgrade the status at any time for any reason. Upgrading the status requires that the property passed the required certificate of eligibility (roughly 70-80% of people are eligible for freedom) and can only be done with their consent. The property having a status can always ask to be reverted to having no status and this request cannot be refused.
Self-owners are the only persons allowed to vote and be eligible at elections, to own human property (along with juridical persons owned and led by self-owners), to be able to do very sensitive jobs, etc. [Note: although the possession of other human beings ("human property") is reserved to self-owners, human property can "own" other things if they have at least the self-administration status]
Owners cannot kill their human property. However, if they don't want of them anymore and no other owner wants of them, the state will kill the property. This disposition combined with the obligation of owners to "keep alive and healthy" (essentially housing and feeding) property means that homelessness is almost non-existent. (Self-owners having lost all their money can still be homeless.)
Property who are working for the state (the army, law enforcement, civil service, teachers) are owned by the state and automatically granted the highest status they can pretend to, as such working for the state is prestigious and sought after. It doesn't pay very well however.
Other property are either owned by individual self-owners or corporations. Very highly skilled people tend to be bought by big companies and be granted certificates of freedom and high pay (as long as they work there), unskilled people are usually bought by huge factories to perform harsh, unpaid work with no status.
Would a consumerist system like our current one be viable when there are people who cannot own anything? What would be the necessary adaptations of the market?