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Considering Redistribution of Property

March 9th, 2009

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.

Comments

6 Comments

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  • Mike Gogulski says on: March 9, 2009 at 6:01 pm

     

    100% agreement from this lone voice. Great post.

  • nothirdsolution says on: March 10, 2009 at 4:30 am

     

    Thanks Mike!

  • John says on: March 12, 2009 at 3:25 am

     

    This was really interesting. I wish I had clearer thoughts on the nature and magnitude of the injustices indirectly created by Statism and how to properly correct them. For instance, what you mentioned in the first paragraph after the blockquote: all these companies that got rich because of the State-distorted monetary system and capital structure–should their debtors and employees just be able to take over, or renege on their loans?

    You probably saw this thread at Mises.org, started by Kinsella, about ACORN members squatting in their houses and Brad Spangler supporting them and who is more in the right and who is more in the wrong… http://blog.mises.org/archives/009531.asp

    (You'll notice I put in my two cents rather early on, but they didn't seem to contribute much to the discussion; I thought they were pretty good, if extremely inconclusive, at the time…)

  • Rad Geek says on: March 16, 2009 at 11:13 pm

     

    "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."

    Well, sure, but which anarchists are trying to sell that idea? Maybe some of the commies (although, remember, most anarcho-communists do believe in, or at least nod at a principle which declares, the right of individuals to withdraw from communist arrangements if they desire; the idea is usually that they imagine communist arrangements would be so obviously superior that nobody but a few lone weirdos would want to, and that even if those lone weirdos somehow amassed enough resources to build a factory under private proprietorship, that nobody would want to toil in it). But in any case, I certainly don't know of any mutualists or "uber-left libertarians" who think that individual people shouldn't have the right to own and acquire productive assets. If you do, I'd like to hear some names and quotations.

    Of course, there is a separate question, as to what forms of organization and what levels of centralization of control over machinery and technology, would be most likely to flourish within a market freed from government privileges and increasingly distant from the shadow of past government subsidies. That question is interesting and important, but separate from the moral question of what individual people ought to have the right to do or not to do. For what it's worth, though, I think it would be absolutely wrong to claim that, on the predictive (as opposed to the normative) question, mutualists ad "uber-left libertarians" somehow imagine that there wouldn't be any individual ownership of capital in a freed market. Actually, the position is generally that individual ownership of capital would become much more widespread than it currently is, because forms of collective ownership that currently dominate the market (e.g. large centralized corporations) would be undermined by the collapse of state privilege. To take an example, as I understand it, Carson's view (for example) is that vastly more productive assets would be owned individually in a free society than are today, because he envisions that, absent government intervention in favor of large centralized operations, a much larger portion of production would be carried out within households and small family shops.

    • nothirdsolution says on: March 16, 2009 at 11:18 pm

       

      Charles – thanks much for the clarification. I may have cast too wide a net with the "mutualists and uber-LLs", my apologies :)

      To take an example, as I understand it, Carson's view (for example) is that vastly more productive assets would be owned individually in a free society than are today,

      That's the understanding I have of Carson's POV, and it's an argument with which I'm inclined to agree.

      Thanks again for stopping by!

no third solution

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