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?


closed as too broad by Mołot, Ash, Trish, Aify, Mark Olson Jul 8 '18 at 18:11

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for the feedback. I had thought about using the sandbox but I don't have enough reputation to post on meta. Is the edit I just made enough to fix the issues? $\endgroup$ – motezazer Jul 8 '18 at 7:13
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    $\begingroup$ Hi motezazer, welcome. Just a quick FYI, if you wish to reply to a particular comment, and for that person to receive a notification of that comment, you can add an "@ username" (without the space). Otherwise you are relying on them to come back to the question on a whim or to check out new answers etc. Another fyi, you can't randomly tag anyone into a comment, it only works for those that are already in the comment thread. Original posters and answer posters also receive notification when anyone comments on their posts. $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Jul 8 '18 at 7:59
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    $\begingroup$ By the way: Your society seems to have some parallels to the Roman Republic. Some questions on history.SE about slavery in ancient rome could be very inspiring for you. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Jul 8 '18 at 11:10
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    $\begingroup$ As stated, the civil service, defence force etc are all people who are the property of the state. The "best" 1% are self-owned, so it means that you will never get any of the "best" people actually running government departments, only as elected officials. It also means that all the people with advanced combat and tactical training are slaves in jobs where "It doesn't pay very well" - this seems hazardous. $\endgroup$ – KerrAvon2055 Jul 8 '18 at 12:12
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    $\begingroup$ This is implausible, probably even impossible. Slavery in the U.S. worked because the slaves were kept absolutely destitute. They had no ability to organize and rebel. In this system your military is 99 increadibly well armed people following 1 slave master. He'd be dead in five minutes. Slavery only works when the power of the owners overwhelms the power of the slaves. $\endgroup$ – JBH Jul 8 '18 at 16:58

The economy would be surprisingly similar to our current one, although far less efficient.

We make a big deal about our efforts to reform ourselves as an enlightened society and purge the evils of slavery from our midst; we applaud people like William Wilbourforce, Abraham Lincoln and many other quiet reformers who effectively abolished slavery in England, USA and other developed nations. But, these people really got rid of something that was on the way out anyway, for a very simple reason;

It's expensive.

Owning a slave in a regulated environment may sound cheaper than employing people to work farms and cotton gins and the like, but the truth is anything but. In a regulated environment, you have to provide a minimum standard of housing, good quality food, medical care, etc. This all means that you end up with a small army of skilled slaves or employees working as carpenters, cooks, doctors, and many other professions just to keep your core body of workers going.

On the other hand, if you simply free them and then offer them work, they have to find and pay for their own homes, food and medical care on their own time.

Ironically, this is why the worst thing to happen to the treatment of slaves (especially during transport from Africa on boats) during that era in the USA was the Emancipation Proclamation. As soon as Lincoln declared slavery illegal, he effectively (by virtue of that declaration) repealed every regulation around the treatment of slaves which made their treatment subject to only one consideration, namely the profit margin.

Even more ironically, it's happening again. Modern employees (especially of large corporations) get all manner of sick and personal leave, medical plans, superannuation, etc. It's becoming more and more expensive for corporations to 'own' employees. The solution? Casualisation. More contract and freelance offerings, less permanent positions. Back to paying the 'employee' for what they do, and leaving the employee to pay for all their own support structures.

Your model does exactly the same thing, but with the ratio you describe does it on steroids and actually makes the single most ubiquitous instrument in modern economies almost impossible to wield;

Public Companies.

If only 1% of your population can own anything, that means that your stock market almost can't exist. I don't know the exact figures, but much of a modern stock market is fuelled by 'Mom & Pop' investors. In Australia, it's worse. A lot of the stock market is actually fuelled by superannuation funds investing the common workers' super holdings for their retirement.

How can you drive an economy without multiple people investing in a single idea, raising capital across the breadth of the economy? The problem with your model is that 1% is too small a population base to find those investors with the same vision you have, or who believe in your vision enough to put money into it. That means that in turn, many companies wouldn't exist, many products and services we take for granted today wouldn't exist, and research and development would be less likely to be funded as well.

To be specific against your question, where possible companies would much rather 'hire' people instead of 'owning' them because of the financial and administrative overhead. Always. Owning someone makes you responsible for them in a way that any business would rather not have to accept. Consumerism would 'sort of' work because people still consume; the difference is that most goods would now be sold in bulk because you have 1% of the buyers all buying 100x the goods they personally need.

In some ways, this would look very much like a Communist (or at least a Socialist) state. Communism isn't a form of government per se; it's an economic model in which all property is essentially owned by the state. In practice, this means that major assets are controlled by committees that represent the state. (Democracy and Communism are not opposites; Communism/Capitalism and Democracy/Authoritarianism are both opposite pairs)

In your world, the self-owned effectively become the economic equivalents of State officials who manage economic assets on behalf of the masses. This is not as efficient as it sounds and there's no inducement to contribute to such a model other than patriotism or altruism, or possibly through fear of reprisals from a lack of participation.

So; your model would put much control into the hands of a few. This would limit market flexibility, curb research and development, and limit production to practical goods that are needed for the common good. Ultimately your economy isn't going to last because there's no incentive for individuals to provide extra effort beyond supporting exactly that.

  • $\begingroup$ What happens if the (3)freeman are allowed to speculate on the ecomony? Just cause they can't own property or vote, doesn't mean they cannot be wealthy and pay for other items, be the Mom and Pop investers you mentioned etc. $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Jul 8 '18 at 8:07
  • $\begingroup$ @EveryBitHelps that's an interesting question, but speculation by definition means the ability to own 'property' unless this word is intended to imply 'real property', or land. I've taken the broader interpretation here in my answer but your point is well made and freemen who could own shares in companies would be similar in nature to the Jews in Europe during the pre-renaissance period who were renowned money lenders. In Italy in particular they were known as 'Benchmen', or in Italian Bankeri, or in modern terms bankers. Such wealth would however eventually demand true freedom. $\endgroup$ – Tim B II Jul 8 '18 at 8:27
  • $\begingroup$ It looks like "human property" was confusing: it truly means human beings, I've edited the question to add a clarification. Otherwise a great answer that's really helpful into understanding how the economy would evolve in such a setting. $\endgroup$ – motezazer Jul 8 '18 at 9:19

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