A lot of people misunderstand capitalism. Capitalism isn’t about profit, or GDP, or getting rich, or greed, though they are all part of it. Capitalism is about property.
Many socialists and communists criticise capitalism with poor understanding and arguments, and few take on its foundation. I will now attempt to lay down its foundation.
You begin with the premise of property– each person may have complete control over what s/he owns, and may use that control to whatever ends they wish. As long as this is one of your premises, you will either end up with capitalism (anarcho-capitalism?) or a contradiction.
Now, within each person’s control of a possession, they have the power to hand over control. So you can trade.
And importantly, no object has any value of its own. This is a common misunderstanding. You never pay for anything in itself: you pay for someone else to hand over their power to you. If you paid for the object itself, where would the money go? And this value is subjective.
So, one man (we’ll call him No1) has an ornamental (but functional) tractor and many fields, and another (No2) has a field and bags of gold. No2’s field is on an island with No1’s tractor, and No1’s fields are on the mainland. No2 offers enough gold to buy a thousand better tractors on the mainland, because he doesn’t want to transport a tractor to the island, but No1 says no, because his tractor was his dead grandfather’s. The objects value was different to the two. Is there anything wrong with keeping your heirloom to make you happy?
It is the same with a business. A (monopolist) farmer might burn some of his crops, despite hunger around him, because he wants more money to be happy. It is in his power to do with as he will.
A nice note on capitalism, is that because value is subjective, so is the idea of being rich. For one man, money makes you rich, for another, it’s friends, family, kindness, or anything.
‘for where your treasure is, there will be also your heart.’
Each actor in the market uses their own power, to their own ends. Whether consumer, employer, investor, employee or anyone else. (If you accept the government’s possession of the land and the people, they do too)
Capitalism flows logically from ownership. Anyone who wants to attack capitalism, must attack property.
Peter Kropotkin, the great anarcho-communist, understood this. When other communists, socialists, and anarchists, suggested any form of ownership, trade, or money (“work notes”), he told them it would lead to tyranny or capitalism.
So what argument can be levelled against property itself?
Property is based on increasing freedom. The argument is that, if a man in his freedom can change an object, for his past freedom to be sustained he must have complete authority over the object. For the freedom to change an object to exist, that change must be protected.
But this premise is false. Freedom to do, doesn’t require the removal of the freedom to undo.
And property, in the privatisation of freedom over an object, is violent. You cannot remove freedom by free action in the past. It makes no sense.
How can property be gained by being first to act upon it? What would count as acting upon it? How come such a right is eternal, lasting beyond the actor’s life. No, property rights are nonsense. Property began when men threatened violence for touching an object.
That said, I respect that some things mean more to some people, and I don’t want to upset them. I call this, belonging. Heirlooms belong in families. Everyone belongs at their own home.
‘We belong together.’
When you respect possession, you respect violence, and papers. When you respect belongings, you respect people’s feelings, their hearts.
All that being said, I don’t intend on stealing (or expropriating) anything. Just living by love, regardless of the idea of property, but keeping in mind those who consider themselves owners. It’s still not kind to steal.
Arguably, using property in love would work out as not treating property as your own anyway. I like this idea, because it means the problem of what to do with property and of property being false, solve each other if you live by love (which I believe you should).
Love cannot be bought. It cannot be forced. It cannot be tempted out. It is definitively free. All things in love are free.
God bless you.
“…I don’t think the distinction between positive and negative rights ultimately matters very much. …”
It matters insofar as *positive* rights can be more easily twisted and subverted (or simply invented and indoctrinated into the population) by people who wish to act immorally.
The (supposed) right to a certain standard of living is perhaps the most obvious example of this. This supposed right is often used by groups attempting to justify taking a proportion of other people’s wealth by force. The justification goes as follows:
“We need to steal half your wages each week so we can give some of it to the poor, after all, everyone has the *right* to a basic standard of living”
This logic is flawed on many levels. For a start is implies John’s right to a basic standard of living supersedes Susan’s fundamental property rights (the right to not be stolen from at gunpoint).
Yet a contradiction is exposed if John ever attempts to violate Susan’s property rights directly. This is considered unacceptable behaviour. Therefore it is actually *governments* who are asserting THEIR right to violate the population’s property rights using the concept of certain positive rights as their justification.
Whether or not governments (or anybody else) spend some of the wealth they steal on ineffectual welfare programs is beside the point.
If I steal half your wages it doesn’t matter how I spend the money. Even if I give all of it to deserving charities it is still theft.
In reality governments spend a great deal of the money they steal from us on extremely wasteful, immoral and destructive things.
This is just one of example of the dangers of believing in ‘positive rights’.
I understand and sympathize a fair bit with the view of ‘positive’ rights/liberties being more insidious than ‘negative’, as the former generally does seem to require more involvement and encroachment by some external power to implement and enforce them, and thus opens up more room for being twisted, for the ‘totalitarian menace’ as Isiah Berlin puts it, whereas the latter seemingly only requires that certain actions be abstained from, like stealing from me.
But some, like Charles Taylor, have pushed back against there being such a cut-and-dry distinction between ‘positive’ rights/liberties and ‘negative’, in that ‘negative’ rights/liberties often still have much of the characteristics of ‘positive’ rights/liberties in the end. Often the complaint against viewing ‘negative’ rights/liberties as simply the right/freedom to not be interfered with is that the importance of rights/freedoms is not just in their being an ‘opportunity concept’, but in their being an ‘exercise concept’ as well. By this what Taylor is trying to point out is that rights/liberties aren’t important just as things to have, maybe to be used some day, but that their importance lies in their actually being utilized. To have the opportunity to speak freely, own property, etc., doesn’t matter very much if we never get the chance to exercise those rights and actually do those things. This is where the distinction between ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ collapses a bit. By the very nature of what a ‘right’ is, some mechanism, some external power, needs to exist in order to ensure that rights can be exercised by guaranteeing that those who have duties or obligations relating to those rights fulfill those duties/obligations. This is the case regardless of whether the duty is to act, as with ‘positive’ rights, or the duty is to refrain from acting, as with ‘negative’ rights.
“If I steal half your wages it doesn’t matter how I spend the money.” This is exactly the point and what I meant by the distinction between positive and negative rights not mattering very much. Whether they’re pointing a gun to our head and stealing half our wages in the name of upholding and protecting our negative rights through the creation and use of police forces, legislatures, courts and so on, or they’re using that money in the name of positive rights, it amounts to the same thing; the same intrusion and use of coercive force on us by the state in the name of the rights of others, regardless of whether the rights of others they’re seeking to uphold are ‘positive’ or ‘negative’.
In light of the difficulty with ‘rights’ which you describe, what are your thoughts on using the Non Aggression Principle (NAP) as a foundation for society?
We *already* recognise, accept and generally adhere to the NAP in everyday society (in our business/ personal and public / private lives). And society seems to thrive wherever the NAP is adhered to (which includes dealing with those people who violate it).
The ONLY group in society who claim the legal and moral right to violate the NAP is the government. And it is government interference and their initiation of force which seems to do the most harm to society.
Would you support an extension of the NAP to include the behaviour of people working in and for governments?
To me this seems like the best solution. Well overdue given the modern age civilised we are supposed to be living in today! :)
In “What is Property”, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon draws a distinction between property and possession, which I think may help illuminate your distinction between property/possession and belonging.
Proudhon, working within a labour theory of value, believed that although we ‘own’ our personal labour, all human labour and its products are the result of collective force, and as such are therefore collective property, held by everyone. For example, if I make a table and some chairs, we could say that I own them because they are a product of my labour and I own my personal labour. But not only are the table and chairs a product of my own personal labour, they are also the result of the labour of the person who has taught me how to build them as well, so too the labour of the person who designed and built the tools I used, the labour of the person who grew the food to feed me so I can work on them, and so on.
In this sense, Proudhon would agree with you that there is no such thing as property rights; individual ‘property’ as such cannot arise, as everyone has equal title to all property due to the fact that all labour and products result from collective force and are therefore equally and collectively owned. The only time ‘right’ comes into the picture is in terms of possession. The example that comes to my mind for understanding this is borrowing a library book from a public library. We recognize and understand that when a person borrows a library book the book does not become their personal property, but instead remains the property of the library, or the public more generally. Instead, what has happened is that the rest of the public has granted that person a right of possession for that book for a specific amount of time.
I would take your comment on the coercive force behind property rights further and suggest that not only property or possession rights, but in fact all rights only exist and are maintained by force. This force need not necessarily be physical or violent, it can also be social, political, moral, religious, etc., but because rights only exist if recognized, the only way to guarantee their continued recognition from free-acting agents is by some manner of persuasive or coercive force.
“…I would take your comment on the coercive force behind property rights further and suggest that not only property or possession rights, but in fact all rights only exist and are maintained by force….”
Your talking about ‘positive rights’ (I have the right to X) but we can also flip it on its head and think of property in terms of ‘negative rights’ too (no one has the right to Y).
If you spend a month of hard work making a table out of wood then we can argue that you do not own it 100% outright. But in all practical sense you do own it. You own it in the sense that nobody else can RATIONALLY claim to own it MORE than you do.
The only way another person can make a claim of ownership on the table you made (or the car or house you bought etc) is through threats of violence against you, deception or fraud.
In this sense ‘property rights’ (and the force which is often required to back them up) are not so much about giving the owner ‘property rights’…… they are about *preventing* would-be thieves from exercising invalid (irrational) ‘property rights’ which are based solely on coercion, violence, deception and fraud.
I don’t think the distinction between positive and negative rights ultimately matters very much. An important aspect of rights to keep in mind is the fact they exist only via a concomitant duty on others to uphold them. W. N. Hohfeld is most known for establishing this doctrine by distinguishing rights, with their corresponding duties and obligations, from privileges, which are not obligatory on the part of others and can be revoked at any time (although Proudhon’s followers in the First International talked of the interrelation between rights and duties before Hohfeld was even born).
So in terms of rights, regardless of whether the duty on others is to refrain from some act, like in the case of negative rights such as the right to not have one’s speech or mobility infringed upon, or the duty is to actively perform some act, like in the case of positive rights such as the rights to education or healthcare, there is a required recognition and performance of those duties on the part of others if these rights are to be upheld. But people, as free agents, are always free to not recognize and uphold any rights or duties they do not wish to, so the only way to guarantee the recognition of these rights is through some manner of persuasion or coercion or force. That this applies just as equally to negative rights as it does positive rights can be seen in the fact that negative rights require entrenchment and protection in a legal, and therefore coercive, framework in order to be upheld and enforced just as much as positive rights do.
I also don’t agree with your, or anyone else’s, appeal to ultimate, objective rationality and ‘right reason’. Logic and rationality is essentially a function of language (as logic is a formal language), where if given the set of premises or facts A, B, and C, as well as a set of rules on how those premises and facts relate, we apply a test to see if the conclusions X, Y, and Z follow from them. So yes, if we’re working off the same set of premises, a person can talk about what rationally follows in an objective sense, but the problem here is that there is no single, universally accepted set of premises we all work with. For example, Joe Rahi is operating from a Christian worldview, I am operating from a more agnostic one, so our basic premises on how the world and human nature work are fundamentally different. As such, our ‘logics’ and what ‘makes sense’ to us are fundamentally different. Any devout believer and devout non-believer who have entered into a discussion about faith and belief with each other and been amazed at how both sides seem to be talking past each other, and how the other side just can’t seem to comprehend or understand what it is that they see so clearly, has experienced this collision and intersection of different existing ‘logics’.
All that being said, I would suggest that there are indeed worldviews in which one can ‘rationally’ claim the products of others’ labour. Both capitalism, with its expropriation of labour products to the capitalist, and communism, with its expropriation of labour products to the proletariat as a whole, operate without regard to a schema where hard work ‘in’ directly correlates with individual property rights ‘out’. In fact, in both of these systems often the people who work the hardest and labour the most end up with the least property, while those who labour the least end up with the most.
I’ll make sure to read that. I’ve heard great things about Proudhon, and his book sounds like it will be a great help.
“….When you respect possession, you respect violence, and papers. When you respect belongings, you respect people’s feelings, their hearts…”
I do not understand this. It seems to be based on the assumption that everyone secretly would like to own everything (and would benefit from doing so). This is a common but misguided assumption (more of a ‘feeling’ really), and it is probably due to the fact that we’ve always had rulers who keep confiscating our property by force leaving us with just enough to get by (at the most) – so we are always wanting to own more stuff.
In reality it is usually *preferable* (both desirable and most productive) for us to own only that which we can realistically control and no more.
Let’s say you are a hot shot architect working in the city designing shopping centres and high rise buildings. You keep having coffee breaks and you start to think it would be better to own your own cow so you could have free milk. So you buy a cow. Is this preferable? Of course not! Now you have to divert HUGE amounts of time, energy and money looking after this cow, learning how to treat it when it gets sick, and milking it twice a day. You hardly have any time left for designing buildings.
Therefore it is DESIRABLE for us to respect (and actively protect) each other’s property rights and allow other people to own stuff.
Owning more than we can realistically control is always a burden, a drain on our resources, a liability and a waste of our time. If you CHOOSE to buy milk , cheese and bread from the supermarket instead of investing in a farm (or stealing a farm at gunpoint) then you are recognising the advantage of NOT owning a farm and having other people own farms instead.
Likewise the farmer who takes his corn to a bakery to be made into bread instead of investing in a bakery (or stealing one at gunpoint) recognises the advantage of NOT trying to run both a farm and a bakery at the same time.
In the ‘stone age’ we all did every job in society (cooking, hunting, berry picking, washing, clothes manufacture etc). As a result we were rubbish at all of these activities. We only climbed out of the stone age and developed decent technology by specialising – becoming experts in specific activities – and then trading the results of that specialisation among ourselves. Spear experts traded with shoe experts and so on. The result is better spears and better shoes for both of them.
For this specialisation to work we HAVE to respect other people’s property, and it is totally to our advantage to do so – respecting (and helping to defend) other people’s property is the ‘selfish’ thing to do. If we didn’t we’d soon end up back in the stone age.
Whenever and wherever property rights are violated specialisation and thus productivity, innovation and ‘progress’ is slowed or even reversed. This includes all forms of collectivism / communism / socialism.
In a free society (one that respected property rights and the non aggression principle) we would still be perfectly free to find like minded communists/ collectivists and set up a system where we VOLUNTARILY surrender our property rights to a set of rulers….
…… but what we wouldn’t be able to do is impose this lifestyle onto other people BY FORCE.
Imposing your politics and your lifestyle onto others by force is not love.
Thanks for the comment. Actually I had no assumption or feeling of the sort. I know we don’t want everything. I was talking about property rights to whatever end you want. And I get that there is competition, but it is still each controlling their property to their own ends, and excluding others, and that was the point.
I disagree with you on specialization, property rights and progress. I don’t believe at all that there was no specialization in the stone ages. At the least, men would hunt, children get berries, women raise children, and elders make tools and teach. Specialization is so intuitive, I doubt two generations of humans would exist without using it. Humans would hardly be able to survive without specialization. Most of these communities were probably communal. Many communal societies have existed, thrived, and made great innovations. They are perfectly fine with specialization, without private ownership. Everyone likes to be the best at their own special thing, regardless of owning or trading the produce.
I have no desire for property rights to be “violated”. I want it to be acknowledged that they don’t really exist, and then for people to live accordingly.
And I don’t want property rights to be surrendered to any kind of rulers. Public property is just as bad as private property. I want no property. No rulers. No owners.
I agree that refusing people the choice of capitalism wouldn’t be loving. I tried to make that clear at the end, but now realise I didn’t manage. I’ll correct that now.