Ownership & Citizenship, Economic & Social Justice

Here is a nice analysis from a more anarchist viewpoint:

Alternative View: The Just Third Way
by Norman G. Kurland, President, Center for Economic and Social Justice

“Power exists in society whether or not particular individuals own property.  If we accept Lord Action’s insight that “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” our best safeguard against the corruptibility of concentrated power is decentralized power.  If Daniel Webster is also correct that “power naturally and necessarily follows property,” then democratizing ownership is essential for democratizing power.

“In the economic world, property performs the same power-diffusion function that the ballot does in politics. It does more. It makes the ballot-holder economically independent of those who wield political power.

“Both socialism and capitalism concentrate economic power at the top. It makes little difference that under capitalism the concentration is in private hands and under socialism the concentration is in the hands of the state. Both systems are excessively materialistic in their basic principles and overall vision. Both, in their own ways, degrade the individual worker. Both bring forth economic systems that ignore and hinder the intellectual and spiritual development of every member of society.”

It reminds me somewhat of Chomsky’s thinking about anarcho-syndicalism. In that light, I would add a criticism from a Chomskyan perspective. Not all socialism is statism. I would even go as far as to say that, these days, most socialists aren’t statists. Most socialists I’ve come across tend toward either anarchism or localized social democracy.

However, it might be true that capitalism, if left unregulated by government or if it gains too much influence/power over government, will always lead to concentration. Monopoly does seem, according to the observations of history, to be the natural endpoint of capitalism… until some external force intervenes (government, labor unions, revolution, etc).

Despite that minor critcism, I see great merit in the above quoted analysis. Many earlier American thinkers realized that the concept of  property needed to be remade according to the principles of freedom (both negative freedom and positive freedom). Our present laws about property are counter-productive to and undermining of democracy and hence destructive to our society.

So, what is property anyway? Property is to own, i.e., to be invested in. I think this too often misses out on the human aspect of property. Human nature isn’t objectively neutral. To invest is to be invested in a very personal way. We all are invested in society, in the environment, in our communities, in our families, in our neighbors, in our sense of place, in our children and the future. We are invested in that which impacts us and that which we impact. This is what gets lost in the numbers.

We all are effecting one another all the time. Our actions aren’t isolated. Even what one does on one’s property effects those around one and effects future generations. What right do we have to use up resources and destroy the environment that future generations will depend upon? Those future generations have equal ownership as we do. What right do wealthy nations have to use up resources and destroy the environment of poor nations? Those poor people have equal ownership as we do.

We don’t simply own. We are owned by the world. Even our bodies are merely borrowed materials. When we die, our bodies and our property will return to the collective bio-system that we call earth.

I don’t know the answer to the perplexing issues. All that I know is that our present beliefs are false to the point of disconnecting us from reality.

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