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Note 6: Making the Impossible Possible - Howard Richards

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Howard Richards

Note Six

The Just Distribution and Ethical Use of Property

From the New York Times, June 2, 2020:

The anger is different this time. After years of Americans being killed by the police more than 1,000 per year, for as long as statistics exist something has changed over the past week.

The gruesome video of a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on George Floyd's neck plays a role. So does a pandemic that's disproportionately killing African-Americans. And so do the angry, racialized politics that President Trump encourages.

Here are some of the voices from the protests, which have included many people who say they've never protested before:

"In every city, there's a George Floyd," said Michael Sampson II, 30, of Jacksonville, Fla.

"It could be my father, my brother, my uncle, my cousin, my friend," said Victoria Sloan, 27, of Brooklyn. "It makes me angry."

"I'm speaking for everybody, all my kinfolk, all my brothers and sisters who've gotten beaten up by police," said Cory Thomas, 40, who said the police beat him when he was a teenager in Brooklyn. "I don't condone the violence," or the looting, he said, "but at the end of the day, no 14-year-old should be beat up by police."

The testimonies go on and on. I have quoted just a small sample. A similar -and indeed even more horrifying-- list of testimonies of injustice could be compiled talking to my neighbours in Chile. And in almost any country in the world. Historians find that the violent repression of the losers in the economic game -of whatever race; of whatever religion, gender or sexual orientation: on whatever continenthas been the norm ever since capitalism began.

We all know too that nothing is really going to change police brutality, racism, militarism, hypocritical foreign policies, or any of a host of other evils until there Is a more just distribution of wealth, a more ethical use of property, and an economic system powered by a different dynamic. In general, the  deep structure has to change. Some keys to defining modernity's "deep structure" are individuals seeking money, because they need money; the impossibility of everyone getting it legally; and the consequence that the economy will have illegal sectors, deep-seated racism, and the employment of police and jails to protect commerce. Given such deep structures, although it is not a mathematical certainty that racial stereotyping and violence will mushroom, it is a virtual inevitability. Martin Luther King Jr. told the truth when In 1966, he told the staff at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference that

"there must be a better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism. Call it what you may, call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all of God's children."
In words commonly attributed to Archbishop Amigo of Seville in Spain,
"Peace is a table with four legs, and its four legs are justice, justice, justice and justice."

It can be argued that before capitalism and in the previous phases of capitalism, it was to the interest of an upper class, or race, or gender, to keep others down so they could be up; in words recently spoken by a famous person it was in the interest of the privileged  to dominate. Today there is ample evidence -and the worldwide protests against the murder of George Floyd are part of the evidencethat it is to the interest of everybody to work together across sectors for the common good. The present unjust distribution of property and the unethical use of it does not benefit one single person, no not one; and it certainly does not benefit even one single person s grandchildren. It is sinking all of us deeper and deeper into chaos. It is taking down the plants and animals that share the earth with us as it destroys the physical and biological equilibria that make life possible.

I may be wrong about these italicized assertions, but I have an excuse. My excuse is a standing invitation to all the world to criticize my views and to correct my mistakes.

But where do we start? There are so many wrongs to right.

For example, we might could start by enacting legislation taxing away gains from speculation in land, as Henry George proposed in the 19th century. This would correct one form of the injustice of making fortunes keeping other people from using assets for some life-serving purpose, while holding onto them waiting for their price to go up. It would bring money into the public purse that could be used, as MLK Jr. suggested, to employ the unemployed to care for the sick and elderly; it could be used to employ the unemployed to reforest denuded mountains to fight global warming. Bringing down land prices by discouraging speculation would make home ownership more affordable for ordinary people; it would lower rents; it would save many from sleeping on the sidewalk or in their cars.

We might could but we can't. Why not? No reader of the preceding five notes will be surprised by the idea as the world is now organized, we can t. Speculation in real estate does little or no good and a great deal of harm. Nevertheless, the diversion of increases in land value (due, for example, to population growth) to employing the unemployed, caring for the sick and old, and reversing global warming, would tank investor confidence. Any government that put into practice the philosophy of Henry George would be classified as "high political risk," "populist," and "radical." To date no democracy has ever dared to try.

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Dr. Howard Richards: Education: Yale, Oxford, Harvard, University of California at Santa Barbara, University of Toronto, Stanford Law School (USA). Three doctorates: Education, Philosophy and Law. First volunteer attorney for the late Cesar (more...)

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