Sunday, January 30, 2011

Why not call it by its proper name: theft.

I believe most people have understood that most property is based on privilege of different sorts, but not that most of it derives from theft or violence. How did that piece of land that is sold today originally come into hands of a private person?
well there are some possible sources. But by and large they almost all come to that the government gave it away or sold it to a private person. Because it is government that defines property, it all derives from government, or the state.

To convert land from public or communal stewardship to private ownership is just the first, but an essential step to make land into a tradeable commodity, and part of the transformation of society into a market society. Speaking of the "primitive nature" of indigenous peoples, US Commissioner of Indian Affairs, T. Hartley Crawford stated that, unless some system is marked out by which there shall be a separate allotment of land to each individual […] you will look in vain for any general casting off of savagism. Common property and civilization cannot co-exist.(Kinney 1975).

It is interesting to note that a professor in the stronghold for "free market" economics acknowledge this. "Land, natural resources, and government contracts and licenses are the predominant sources of the wealth of our billionaries, and all of these factors come from the governement" says Ragharam Rajan, economist in Chicago (IHT 26 Jan 2011, the superrich pull ever farther away), referring to billionaires of India. This is the case of the billionaires of China and Russia as well, and was certainly true also for the robber barons and the railroad magnates of the 19th last century.

And no doubt, enormous wealth and therefore property is generated by the American wars in Iraq and Afganistan. And what about all the banks and financial institutions that have been bailed out by government. Using "our" money to cover "their" losses. That amounts to nothing but theft.

"Property is theft" ( La propriété, c'est le vol) already the French anarchist Proudhon in 1840.

Having said that, obviously I don't mean that all people that have property are thieves, I have property myself as a starters and I don't consider myself a thief. And there are reasonable arguments in favour of why a person should "own" his or her own dwelling, clothes and perhaps the means of production (which is rarely the case today, where the means of production mostly are owned by a few). Farmers need to own - or at least have long term control over - the land they farm (well it can be communally own as well as most land was before stolen by the government or private interests). The defense for private property mostly takes it start in nice description of how private entrepreneurs create wealth both for themselves and other people by setting up a small enterprise. Also this can be discussed, but it should be noted that this image of how private property is mainly used is showing a very small part of what private property is about in most parts of the world.

There is some essential truth in what Rousseau wrote:
“The first person who, having fenced off a plot of ground, took it into his head to say this is mine and found people simple enough to believe him, was the true founder of civil society [Rousseau certainly was not referring to what we today call civil society, but rather to what we call civilization]. What crimes, wars, murders, what miseries and horrors would the human race have been spared by someone who, uprooting the stakes or filling in the ditch, had shouted to his fellow-men: Beware of listening to this impostor; you are lost if you forget that the fruits belong to all and the earth to no one” (Rousseau 1964).

No comments:

Post a Comment