I’m inclined towards the argument that it would be extremely unlikely (although probably not impossible) for an individual to amass vast fortunes, or even come to ‘own’ something like a factory in a free market, but the only arguments that I’ll entertain seriously, contra “capital” (defined as “non-trivial” means of production like factories, etc.) is the argument that in a free market, these phenomena would be unnecessary or unlikely from an economic viability point-of-view.
A while back, Brad Spangler wrote the following about the redistribution of property, with regards to the homestead principle.
With regard to property claim conflicts between owners and workers, let me say that I envision the revolutionary process as the bootstrapping of a non-state system of law and security. The nature of that law would tend to favor selective redistribution of property from state-allied plutocrats to the workers, but redistribution would be an affirmation of property rights (of the workers) rather than their negation. On the other hand, just because someone is rich wouldn’t make it okay to take their stuff. Rather than wealth being judged on amounts, its ownership would be evaluated methodologically (e.g. “How was this acquired?”) with state-granted privilege being regarded as criminal means of acquisition, thus negating the fake state-granted property title.
In other words: Although he may not have a perfect claim to his house, the tenant has a claim far superior than does the bank which relies entirely on government support to remain legally “solvent,” and that the employees of a highly leveraged firm in bankruptcy have a far superior claim than the lenders who “loaned” the corporations money over the years. I have no idea whether this is enough to appease the communists, the mutualists, the uber-left libertarians. I hope it would be, primarily because I’m simply not sold on the idea that individuals shouldn’t have the right to own and acquire productive assets, at least not on any moral grounds. I refuse to listen to any more commie arguments like “Socialism doesn’t permit individuals to own something like a factory.”
At what point along the continuum of production, consumption, and savings, do you draw the line: A man can own an axe and a saw, but not a lumber mill? He can own a lathe and a press, but he cannot own a building to shelter them? Nor can he employ others to use them? Oh, they scream that capital breeds exploitation! or that the freedom to amass capital is what causes human suffering, or some other nonsense that’s contradicted by centuries of history. But in a freed market, the only way that any man can ever acquire anything valuable, is by producing it with his own labor, and/or exchanging it with others. The latter implies that he’s been able to do something extraordinary for the “common good”, even if that was never his unique intention.
Not everyone who has is guilty of violating someone who has not and a great deal of even those who have not, are in-fact guilty themselves.
Is there a lot of unjust inequality, because of massive amounts of State interference (and church interference, and whatever) over the last few thousand years? Indeed all property has clouded title, if we look back far enough in time. Are there a lot of people sitting on fortunes that amount to essentially stolen property? To be sure, of course a tremendous amount of inequality exists in the world today, the result not of free markets and peaceful, voluntary exchanges, but rather is the result of state-sanctioned extortion, profiteering, rent-seeking, and monopolization. And although I think it’s a stretch, we could even potentially argue that all inequality in the world today is due to these factors.
But, extrapolating from Brad’s argument above, even if we could eliminate all of these injustices, we can’t assume that all inequality is exploitation; not all inequality is evidence of injustice. Because people are different, some are smart and others dull, some are apt and others clumsy, some are capable and others incompetent, some frugal and others spendthrifts, because they think differently and value things differently, a certain inequality is destined to exist. It may be more palatable, more tolerable than what we’ve got now, but it will still be inequality.
The fact of the matter is that no matter what “we” do in order to equalize the distribution of property, it’s extremely unlikely that this new distribution is sustainable for even a very short amount of time, without the assistance of a massively totalitarian force. For the record, I don’t give a damn whether this force is the communist Internationale, or the State’s Army. They both believe that might makes right.