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Rob Chrisman: Ownership as an endangered species

Rob Chrisman
Other Voices

There are few concepts more fundamental to humankind than the idea of ownership. I construe this to mean that, for the things I can be said to own, I have the exclusive ability and right to use, control, and dispose of both tangible and intangible items of property.

This ancient concept is currently under attack by political forces that seek to incrementally demolish it.

How does this work? At the time of our founding, it was taken for granted that one could own land and other physical property, and, in particular, that which was the fruit of one’s own labor. Also, in those early days, with the signature exception of that “peculiar institution” of slavery, one owned one’s physical body and others could not violate it, and you had absolute control over it. As the years have passed, the fruit of one’s labors, i.e. one’s income, is apparently no longer considered to be your exclusive property, but rather that others have some sort of legitimate claim on it.

With the passage of the income tax in 1913, the state has now intruded such that most people see some fraction of their income taken from them by force, and moreover, this fraction is determined differently for different people. Also, with the passage of time, the state has also undertaken to tell you what to do with your own body, e.g. which substances can be ingested, as well as which items of personal property may be owned and which may not.

Are these trees your property, or are you just a steward for future generations?

The discussion of public policy increasingly involves talk of “stakeholders” and of “stewards” of resources, which moves the focus away from notions of true ownership and towards parties which have an ancillary, non-ownership interest in the matters at hand. Stewards have temporary custody and control of property and stakeholders are parties who can experience a positive or negative impact from policies regarding property. Neither are owners in any real sense, and yet, they are given seats at the table.

Here in this county, if you want to cut trees on your own property, you must go, hat in hand, to the state and meekly seek a permit which places strict limits on which and how many trees you can harvest. Are these trees your property, or are you just a steward for future generations? If your real property has seasonal accumulations of water, i.e. “wetlands”, these can easily be declared “Waters of the United States” and woe unto anyone who wants to exploit them for any reason. Your supposed ownership has evaporated into thin air. If actual (or even proposed) activities (e.g. conducting a business) on your property are claimed to adversely influence others, those complaining stakeholders often take precedence in the law over your supposed ownership rights.

The thrust of the political tampering with the ideas of property and ownership as traditionally understood is to sully the exclusivity of rights that characterize true ownership and fragment them into interests possessed by multiple parties. The biggest beneficiaries of such a diminution of ownership are those who want to promote socialism or merely socialistic programs.

According to the Jan. 2 Wall Street Journal, newly announced candidate Elizabeth Warren “has proposed the Accountable Capitalism Act, which would require corporations with $1 billion in revenue to get a new charter from the federal government … Companies would have to fill 40 percent of board seats with employees representatives … (she) wants to make businesses accountable, not to shareholders, who are the owners, but to ‘stakeholders’ who may have a different agenda than business success.” Need I say more with regard to what is trending right now?

I consider that people who succumb to, and embrace these ideas are either wilfully ignorant or intellectually dishonest. Yet, one only has to view current events via any unbiased source to see that hoards of those on the political left, especially the young, are engulfed by socialism which is being represented as some sort of novelty. Unfortunately, they simply seem not to have been told of the horrors perpetrated historically by socialist, communist, and other collectivist governments on their own people; also, from an economic standpoint, any allusion to the Socialist Calculation Problem elicits nothing but blank stares. As a 20th century historical phenomenon, you see, we’ve been there, done that.

If you are one of the few Democrats reading this, may I suggest that prudence might dictate abandoning your party, and just walking away. Others of your persuasion are doing so; see the #Walkaway Movement online.

Rob Chrisman lives in Nevada City. Items like this and related topics can be found on his blog at http://www.NotAllRadishesAreRed.org.


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