If you talk to conservatives, one of the most common things you’ll here is that ‘private property’ is one the key principles of a free society. But when you think about it, what exactly is ‘free’ about being prohibited from using that which should be accessible to all? What gives one person the right to hoard something for themselves, and prevent others from using it? And how many resources can one man honestly need, when there are millions of starving people in the world with barely enough to survive?
The Sinister Beginnings of Private Property
Private property was conceptualized in 16th and 17th century England, where slavery and British Imperialism were commonly practiced and challenged by few. At the time, the majority of the world outside of Europe had little concept of private property. Many of the peaceful peoples of Africa and the Americas followed tribal systems, where each man pulled his weight, and resources were shared among the members of the tribe. Tribes did not allow one man to become a greedy industrialist and hoard resources for himself. To them this was an abhorrent and alien idea, contrary to their conception of fairness and equality – why should one man occupy more than he can use, while others consume below their capacity? The British empire imposed its concept of private property and industrialism on the rest of the world, while claiming vast sums of natural resources such as minerals and precious metals. The British believed that they were bringing ‘civilization’ to the world by spreading the concepts of common law and private property, but of course the rest of the world disagreed, and still do to this day.
The Flawed ‘You Built it, Therefore You Own It’ Argument
President Obama was widely mocked for his statement in a 2012 election campaign speech, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that”. Conservatives love to take this phrase out of context, but had they listened to the whole speech, they’d have to admit that President Obama makes a devastatingly sound argument. His point is this: no man is an island, and no individual is capable of building anything of value on his own, without the help and inventions of millions who toiled before him. Without the knowledge, opportunities and resources bestowed upon him by others, no man is capable of building anything. The ability to create something of value is a privilege granted by the collective, and thus the fruits of your inventions are owed back to society.
Private Property Denies Millions the Right to a Better Life
The richest 1% own almost as much as the rest of the world’s population combined, infinitely more than they could ever consume in a thousand years. Why do we allow these people to own such an incredible amount of wealth, when there are so many people who can barely afford to eat? We live in an age where there are more obese people than starving people, where people in first world countries consume more than ten times what people in poor countries consume. How can we stare such glaring inequality in the face without questioning the ethical value of private property? The rich could help hundreds of millions of people live better lives, without experiencing any significant reduction in their own standard of living.
A Fairer and More Equal Way of Doing Things
Not Everyone believes in the so called principle of private property. There are many who envision a fairer way to organize society, where each man has access only to what he can consume, and no more; and where all of humanity can share in the fruits of society equally. We cannot continue to believe in rules that do not exist and have no moral basis, when resources are so abundant and yet so many are suffering. We need to tear down this immoral and antiquated concept of private property, and create a new society that recognizes people’s needs, and thus puts humanity before greed and selfishness.