A future with no individual ownership is not a happy one: Property theory shows why

| November 11, 2023 | Leave a Comment

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Publication Info: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.futures.2023.103209

Date of Publication: June 2023

Year of Publication: 2023

Publication City: Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Publisher: Elsevier

Author(s): Richard Stewart, Michael B. Charles, John Page

Journal: Futures

Volume: 152


  • Property is a part of the movement towards a more sustainable future.
  • Ownership supports human happiness by promoting personhood.
  • As a property concept ownership is sufficiently diverse to realise a sustainable and socially just future.


The World Economic Forum (WEF) predicted that, by 2030, individuals would own nothing and be happy. This article examines the prediction from a property perspective. We situate the prediction by considering the societal transformations that inform it and show how they concern property. We use property theory to advance property as a socio-legal construct that has formed around the human-thing relationships that are claimed to be deeply embedded in the human condition.

By assuring access to the things to which humans relate, property ownership can support personhood, the realisation of which is, we contend, a threshold requirement for human happiness. Accordingly, any transformative agenda that promotes the abolition of individual ownership should be rejected on account of its failure to properly take account not only of human happiness, but of the human condition more generally.

We argue that, contrary to the WEF prediction, an owner-less future would not be a happy one for individuals. Ownership should thus be preserved as a property concept and we offer an aspiration for it that better supports not just human happiness, but also a more socially just, sustainable, and emancipatory future.

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