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The 'Private Property' Chokehold on Equality

By       Message Robert S. Becker     Permalink
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Further Meditations on Worship of Wealth

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Great wealth leverages "rights" arising from prehistory: that treasure accrues when possessed as "private property," thus granting "owners" godlike control (to sell, gift or trade, to dominate, to lay waste). Though "private" means independent of the state or church, our Founders implicitly sanctified material goods when dedicating the republic to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." And individualism, as in personal liberty, personal happiness.

One wonders why Founding men of means, enraged against "outside" violations of past commercial rights, didn't add private property (separate from state dominion) to this triad of noble goals. What is liberty or happiness without decent living conditions and the wherewithal "to make a good living"? Does America's legendary singularity -- a frenzied work ethic for "making money"-- correlate with happiness and life --or anxiety when haves, gaining their perch, forever dread bankruptcy, even poverty? For the record, "private" spans both personal possessions (homes, cars, guns) plus corporate/organizational property (for profit, not-for-profit, whatever).

Though inequality surfaced before cities, religion, or political dynasties, it's still going strong, the modern Divine Right of Property. Did not wealth begin when some beefy cave dweller growled, "Mine, by right. Beware: do not touch"? That innovator fused previously "outside" stuff with his "inside" personhood -- and every monarch since anchored status, muscle and fealty with superior holdings. The word "treasure" peaks volumes: the noun means fabulous wealth, the verb, that which we highly cherish, even venerate.

Though ownership dominates every era and place, massive wealth concentrations since the 1870's, the offspring of industrialism, altered the entire dynamic as ordinary citizens now matched kings and czars. So much so this new "divine right of private property" allows a gang of unelected billionaires today to bomb democratic rule, let alone mass prosperity for generations. Until progressives (again) disrupt the sanctity of "private" property, what halts the multiple trespasses against the middle class, majority rule, and the rights of the public?

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No reform means abandoning what above all made America exceptional: socioeconomic mobility for immigrants dreaming of freedom, especially freedom FROM want and poverty. No reform means the great lever of crony capitalism endures, wherein high risks are socialized by the many while profits are privatized and, worse still, under-taxed.

New Deal, Reincarnated

What else drives the Bernie Sanders movement -- lurching beyond a campaign -- to restore our best, system-saving revolution, the New Deal, the pinnacle of the Progressive Era? What else drives groups like Revolt Against Plutocracy? To educate, then force redistribution of all earned income that recognizes the right to enjoy collective national productivity. Is this a hard concept, even to fans of Trumpery: let all who contribute to the economic complex, without which there'd be no great wealth, get a fair share.

Economic justice doesn't outlaw generous, merit-based payoffs: the brightest innovations may reflect "private enterprise" but how many true advances "come from nowhere," without any parentage? Rewards will come, but does success warrant a $50 billion+ personal bonanza, a payoff less about individual merit than hugely-integrated world markets filled with countless inputs and variables? What "free enterprise" succeeds without other people's money, family or venture capital, leveraged with bank loans, or private stock and/or IPO sales? And no industrial or hi-tech bonanza exists without public infrastructure, communications and transportation systems. No hermit banks a billion bucks.

The Everything 'Sharing Economy'

So, if the Internet relied heavily on federal funding, why not return fractional profits (as tax credits) to obligated "risk investors"? How much government debt accrued for military, science and space research made high-profit companies and industries possible? Where are the "socialized dividends" for tax trillions spent on medical breakthroughs, a natural way to protect Medicare?

To the degree "real estates" are a zero sum game, what rational or humane measure justifies the Walton family worth over $150 billion, more than some countries? That pencils out to over $20 for every non-Walton. And the great, humanity-advancing breakthrough -- high efficiency, bulk warehousing (low prices, often low quality) profitable by squeezing vendors and employees?

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Amassed private property is an epic world problem, thus wide reform is key to any systemic solution. When do we separate justified profits from what increasingly looms as illegitimate takings from every commons? What Andrew Carnegie called "surplus wealth" still justly needs to be returned to the community base, with high peer pressure that whoever "dies rich, dies disgraced."

We're awash with our latest darling, the "sharing economy," yet would not a New New Deal re-establish this as general, humane and sensible standard for capitalism? Uber and Airbnb provide splashy headlines, but doesn't the vast complexity of global capitalism imply a virtual "sharing" economy -- despite low pay for critical work? For founding theorist, Adam Smith, the goal of capitalism was never to enrich the few rich but to serve a general moral good, truly lifting all boats.

Private Property, Public Menace

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For a decade, Robert S. Becker's rebel-rousing essays on politics and culture analyze overall trends, messaging and frameworks, now featured author at OpEdNews, Nation of Change and RSN. He appears regularly at Dissident Voice, with credits (more...)

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