Thursday, August 14, 2008

Abolition of Property Rights in US Economy

Readers Question: Explain how the abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes would affect the US economy and society in general? Marx thought these changes would make society more egalitarian. What do you think? Do you agree? Explain.

I would love to see someone standing for American President on a platform of Marxist fundamentals. Somehow, I've got this feeling he would struggle to get elected. (this is in a country where someone can be labelled 'Socialist' for promising to increase income tax by 1%)

- The question seems so hopelessly hypothetical, it is difficult to take it seriously. It's also difficult to know where to start.

Firstly, it depends how you abolish all property. The Soviet-Communist approach would be to nationalise everything, basically transfer everything to common ownership by the state.

It is rather a cliche to say Communist economic systems failed because of lack of incentives e.t.c. Just to offer a contrarian approach, we could point to the rapid economic expansion of the Soviet economy in the 1930s. The 5 year plans really were a huge success (at least, if you measure economic welfare by things like the production of steel and iron ore). Workers were so motivated they often did unpaid overtime, just for the greater glory of the Communist revolution and maybe to win a medal for Stalin.
  • However, whether Americans would share the same enthusiasm for doing overtime for a Communist ideal and perhaps getting a medal from Comrade Bush, is rather a mute point. :)
An anarchist approach, would abolish private property but decentralise the common ownership of the means of production. There is no controlling central state, only local anarchist syndicates. You can find the odd example of anarcho-syndicates, during the Spanish revolution of 1936 (ironically, the anarchist revolution was destroyed by the Soviet backed Communists - but, here I digress...)

You could argue America has had the odd anarchist communes. Perhaps the extreme right or certain puritanical religious communes - like the Shakers in the nineteenth century. - I doubt they would label themselves as such and I can't see the ideal becoming mainstream.

What Would Happen?

The economic turmoil would be vast. People are so attached and used to the idea of private ownership, I don't know how people would respond, but, I would expect a dramatic fall in production and output. Americans have no sympathy or even tolerance of Socialist ideals. The American dream means working for yourself, not working for the fruits of your labour to be shared with your brothers. Why work hard and invest, when the profits are to be equally shared amongst all and sundry?

Would it Be more Egalitarian?

Inequality is pretty high in America. Common ownership of the means of production, could definitely help improve reduce inequality. But, despite falling inequality, people would probably be still worse off as economic growth would fall.

There is of course, a lot more to be said. But, since the idea is so divorced from practical reality, I can't inspire myself to give it serious consideration.

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