Friday, September 19, 2008

What Is Property?

With recent "purchase" of AIG by the U. S. government, the word "socialism" has been receiving a lot of unwarranted attention.

We have long thought about and played with various economic systems. There are all manner of theories out there, but they mainly are based upon the different views of the ownership of property. We can argue about capitalism versus socialism versus fascism versus communism until the cows come home but it is meaningless if we do not understand what we are arguing about. And to begin to understand economic theories, we have to understand what property is. Because that is the dividing line of economic theories.

We can dismiss personal property and intellectual property from consideration because both of those items are determined by the economic system; they do not define the economic system but are defined by it. So basically we are talking about real property. Land and the resources within the land. We can also include improvements made to the land, such as a factory and equipment permanently installed within it. The means of production, thus, are the land, resources and improvements thereto.

There are essentially two theories about the ownership of property, now that we have defined it. First, is the theory that rejects the idea that property, nature, can be owned by individuals. The second obviously accepts the idea that property can be owned by individuals. That's it, folks. Nothing more complicated than that. And they cannot be reconciled with each other. There is no combination of the two. You cannot accept the idea of private ownership of property and reject the idea at the same time.

The theory accepting private ownership is obviously capitalism. The other theory is basically ever other economic model ever created. For simplicity's sake, we can divide the theory rejecting private ownership into two camps. The first would be those who believe nature cannot be owned and is available to all; this would be communism. The second would be those who believe that the government owns nature on behalf of the . . . whatever (whatever being the separation in the remaining economic models; generally some type of aristocracy); this would be socialism.

Socialism is the predominate economic system for most of mankind's recorded history. Fascism, feudalism, you name it, are variations of socialism. Communism being the predominate economic system for much of mankind's unrecorded history.

That may be debatable because we never consciously created capitalism; it just sort of snuck up on us and we didn't even see it until Adam Smith pointed it out to us. It arose from feudalism, when monarchs started giving land to subordinates. At some point, that gift of the monarch became less of a noble's "duty" and more of a noble's "right." When the nobility further began giving land away to commoners, the concept of private ownership became entrenched.

We have pretty much done away with any valid concept of socialism or communism and they are relatively useless terms to be casting about in a capitalist society. At best we have concepts of capitalism that may resemble some loose concept of socialism or communism in a general sense. But they are based on an entirely different view of the world and cannot be mixed with capitalism.