Human action is the use of means for the pursuit of ends. An acting human may have any number of possible purposes (ends) to which he’d like to put a given resource (means or good). Multiple other people may also have such uses in mind for the same resource.
When a means cannot be used to compatibly pursue all possible ends that people (whether one person or many) may have for it, that condition is called scarcity, and the means is thereby scarce. In other words, something is scarce when using it uses it up in some way.
Some resources are used up by being occupied. For example, a particular shady spot of standing room cannot be used by every potential stander to each compatibly pursue his end of staying cool. One person standing in that spot necessarily excludes another would-be stander.
Some resources are used up by being depleted. For example, a particular amount of water sitting in a reservoir cannot be used by every potential drinker/bather/farmer/etc to each compatibly pursue all his individual ends. Drinking the water depletes it, such that there is less water for the drinker or for other potential users to put toward other ends, making the pursuit of some of those ends impossible.
Some resources are used up by being degraded, as when an axe is dulled with use. A particular axe cannot be used by every potential wielder to each compatibly pursue all his individual ends. Using the axe degrades it, such that it is less useful for the wielder or other potential users to put it towad other ends, making the pursuit of some of those ends impossible. Technically, degradation is one kind of depletion. The high-quality axe, as a particular grade of good, is destroyed when dulled and effectively “replaced” by a lower-quality axe, which is effectively a different means.
An individual’s use of scarce resources necessarily entails trade-offs, and therefore choices. With incompatible ends, some ends must be pursued by being apportioned some of the means, and other ends left unpursued. This selective and renunciative allocation of means among ends is called economization.
Scarcity is a pervading, inescapable fact of life in reality. The fundamental challenge of human life is economization: rationally dealing with scarcity.
One kind of economization is consumption. Consumption is the allocation of scarce means to the direct pursuit of certain ultimate ends. Another kind of economization is production. Production is the allocation of various quantities of scarce factors (land, labor, capital goods) to the indirect pursuit of certain ultimate ends by combining them in a certain way that transforms some of the factors into products that can then be used to more directly pursue the ultimate ends, perhaps through further production, but ultimately through consumption, the fully direct pursuit of those ends.
Production under the division of labor, in which each laborer focuses on his comparative advantage, is more physically productive per capita than separate, isolated production. For a theoretical demonstration of this law, see Human Action by Ludwig von Mises. Acting beings prefer, ceteris paribus, more of a product to less of it. Therefore, the division of labor can result in superior economization for each participant; that is, factors can be allocated to higher-ranked ends.
Who uses which scarce resource in production (and resulting consumption) under the division of labor will have large systematic effects on the resulting physical productivity, and possible optimization of economization.
First, let us consider the human body, which we define here as the vessel for the mind. Because the means of the body (the use of which is labor, which itself is sometimes instead referred to as the relevant “means”) is, by definition, intimately and inextricably tied to that body’s mind, which is the source of ends, it is uniquely and optimally suited for use in pursuit of that mind’s ends. The more that human bodies are controlled (either through physical force or the threat of physical force) by other minds than the ones occupying the bodies, the more clumsy, halting, and conflict-ridden will be the use of human bodies. Therefore, a division of labor will be vastly more productive, and economization more optimized, if each individual has, as much as is possible, permanent and uninterrupted control over his own body. Such control may be termed “autonomy” or “self-ownership”.
Second, let us consider the case of land or nature, which refers to resources not yet being economized at all by anybody. When such resources are first economized (somehow used up and allocated in the pursuit of ends) by individuals, the more often that the resource-use of those first-comers is interrupted by the incompatible usage of late-comers, the less incentive people will have to find and first-economize resources (bringing them out of nature and into the service of humanity), especially for production usages which would result in a large output (if completed), but which would entail significant sacrifices. Therefore, a division of labor will be vastly more productive, and economization more optimized, if first-economizers have, as much as is possible, perpetual and uninterrupted control over that which they have economized. Such control may be termed “homesteaded property.”
Thirdly, once perpetual and uninterrupted control of a resource is acquired by a first-economizer, it would greatly enhance the productivity of a division of labor, if that control were to be voluntarily transferrable to other acting beings. This would redound to the benefit of all by allowing for mutually-beneficial (by definition) gifts and exchanges of scarce resources, and facilitating the movement of productive resources into the hands of those who would most efficiently deploy those resources. The more often that the resource-use of transferees is interrupted by the incompatible usage of non-transferees, the fewer mutually-beneficial gifts and exchanges of scarce resources will be made, the less often will productive resources move into the hands of those would most efficiently deploy them, and the more reluctant will transferees be to dedicate scarce resources to production usages which would result in a large output (if completed), but which would entail significant sacrifices.
Fourthly, given that the above patterns of control over scarce resources enhance the productivity of a division of labor, and optimize economization, preventing violations of these patterns and “undoing” their direct results as much as possible will help to preserve that enhancement and optimization. Thus, to the extent that individuals’ control over their own bodies, and first-economizers’ and their immediate or indirect transferees’ control over their scarce resources are protected from encroachment, productivity will be maximized and economization optimized; even if such protection entails defensive overriding of the encroaching individual’s control over their own body and resources. If an encroachment does occur, productivity will be maximized and economization optimized to the extent that their direct effects are “undone” by the encroached bodies and resources, or something as near as possible to equal value, being restored by the encroacher to the individual, plus recompense for lost use, even if such restoration and recompense necessitates overriding the encroaching individual’s control over their own body and resources.
Patterns of human action can be established and reinforced through the acceptance of norms. When norms establish and reinforce body and resource control patterns, those norm-established control patterns are called rights. Thus the above control patterns, when enforced by norms, can be called, the individual’s right of autonomy or self-ownership, right of homestead, right of title-transfer, right of title-receipt, right of defense, and right of restitution, and violations of these rights can be called aggression. This set of rights may be termed the libertarian property order.
Anyone interested in a life of greater abundance/less want for themselves and those they care for (which is, in practice, nearly everybody) would want the libertarian property order to be effected, if they understood its systematically beneficial widespread results, and the systematically negative widespread results of its violation.