Private Property: Just or Unjust?

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Samantha Pruser, Period 7

Throughout Ludwig Von Mises’s work of “Liberty and Property” and Karl Marx’s “Manifesto of the Communist Party,” these two men partake in a sort of economic fistfight. Using carefully worded essays as their weapons of choice, they express the lunacy of the other’s work. Marx sees capitalism as a great evil, whereas Von Mises explains how communism hinders prosperity completely. Private Property, a key to capitalism and a threat to communism, is a pertinent topic throughout both these works. This essay seeks to prove that private property is a necessity as well as a just idea. Private property is just because it allows for liberty, prosperity and individualism.

Private property proves itself to be just as it allows for liberty. Scholar Robert L. Hale states that economic freedom means “the absence of any obstacle to his use of material goods.” By owning private property, regardless of how big or small that property may be, socialists believe that one is restricting all others from using that property and one has therefore “concentrated property in a few hands” (Karl Marx). Communists seek to eradicate private ownership of property by taking liberty away from all people and awarding it to the state. However, this only creates a larger problem due to the fact that after liberty is stripped of the people, nobody has any property, not even the so called “few hands.” Rather, if each person could own his own personal property, everyone would have a sufficient amount of liberty. The communist approach to freedom involves the state controlling all land, and personifies the all or nothing approach, where nothing is chosen. In socialist countries leaders admit that “there cannot be any freedom under a socialist system” (Ludwig Von Mises). Those leaders back this claim up by stating that there is no freedom in the”mutual exchange of commodities and services on the market” (Ludwig Von Mises). This “mutual exchange” is commonly known as trade, and has proven time and time again to be beneficial to both parties involved. Capitalists have been successful with trade for decades, as no trade takes place unless both involved parties benefit. The line between excessive and inadequate government intervention is commonly unclear, however by barring private property, communists blatantly cross that line, and deny their people liberty, which is the most basic human right.

Providing opportunity and ownership, private property grants citizens the chance to become prosperous. Referring to socially and economically “good things,” Ludwig Von Mises states that “capitalism gives to the many a favorable chance of striving after them.”Communism, on the other hand, exists on the basis of citizens forfeiting their assets to the state in order to live in a state of complete and utter equality. This oppressive government and its “pre-capitalistic conditions … makes these good things accessible to only a small minority of people” (Ludwig Von Mises ). Private property provides a piece of freedom, as well as a chance to prosper economically. Those opposed to private property believe wholeheartedly that freedom “is not the supreme good” (Karl Marx). They believe that if freedom is accompanied by any poverty whatsoever, the whole system is rendered a failure. This political system seeks to pull down a bevy of prosperous individuals in order to equate them with the impoverished minority, contradicting both capitalism as well as utilitarianism. A prime example of the anti-prosperous system that is communism is the disaster of collective farming in the early Soviet Union. Successful farmers, referred to as “kulaks,” (World History) were declared an enemy to the state by soviet leaders due to their economic well-being. In an attempt to achieve ultimate equality, the leaders of the USSR declared the farms of these kulaks to be made into collective farming plots as part of the process of the planned economy. Land was cruelly and forcefully stripped from the kulaks; those who resisted were forced into labor camps, while poorer farmers were shipped in to harvest the stolen land. Ultimately, most kulaks were killed and the poorer farmers died as a result of starvation and harsh conditions on the collective farms. Under communist regime, owning private property is viewed as gluttonous, whereas in actuality, it only leads to prosperity. This prosperity is a direct result of not only owning land, yet harvesting said land as well as the buying and selling of it. Once again using Russia as an example, communists believe firmly “in giving away liberty as the price to be paid for the acquisition of prosperity;” however, “the Russians made a poor bargain. They now have neither one” (Ludwig Von Mises). Contrary to what communists preach, private property is not an evil; it is simply a vessel for prosperity.

Individualism is a “distinctive principle of Western social philosophy” (Ludwig Von Mises). Rather than glorifying the state as a whole, and ranking individual needs subordinately such as communism does, capitalism seeks to appreciate the individual before the state. This allows for each individual to believe that he has value and can contribute positively to society. Private property, a cornerstone of capitalism, helps a person develop not only economically, but also as an individual. Ludwig Von Mises states it best when he writes that “the social system of private property and limited government is the only system that tends to debarbarize all those who have the innate capacity to acquire personal culture.” Von Mises seeks to convey that capitalism, including the ability to own property, helps advance citizens culturally. A communist regime, which demands complete uniformity, robs individuals of the ability to develop different cultures. Transforming unique individuals into a homogenous body of citizens, socialists value a country composed of those who are simply carbon copies of one another, rather than individuals who can think and speak for themselves. Meanwhile, in capitalistic countries, citizens are free to develop and promote their thoughts. This creates a more open society, with the ability to contribute more than just gross domestic product, but a rich and unique culture as well. On an economic level, private property helps “support a rapidly increasing population at a continually improving standard of living” (Ludwig Von Mises). Further, by holding private property, citizens can contribute to the process of supporting a growing society because capitalism provides “mass production to satisfy the needs of the masses” Ludwig Von Mises). When a society is built on the foundation of limited government and private property; people become more than just numbers. By being able to own individual property, the outcome is “resulting progressive prosperity of the masses that creates a social environment in which the exceptionally gifted individuals are free to give their fellow-citizens all they are able to give” (Ludwig Von Mises). Von Mises seeks to convey that the right to property helps an individual earn value for more than just the labor that he performs, but rather the ideas and creativity that he can contribute to make for a richer and fuller society.

Both capitalism and communism were created with the purpose of bettering society. While similar in intent, these two schools of thought are opposite in philosophy. Private property, a heavily debated topic between these two works; is defended by Ludwig Von Mises and vilified by Karl Marx. The owning of individual property seeks to unravel every strand that communism is built upon, while private property is the foundation of the skyscraper that is capitalism. Whereas communism requires subjects to forfeit liberty in order to achieve prosperity, neither is ever achieved. Capitalism stands out as the most lucrative and beneficial economic system that the world has seen to date. Capitalism, however, would not be the juggernaut that it is today without the edict that individuals have a right to own private property. Ultimately proven to be a just and necessary part of society, ownership of private property serves as a catalyst for liberty, prosperity and individualism.

Works Cited

Beck, Roger B. World History: Patterns of Interaction. Evanston, IL: McDougal Littell, 2005. Print.

Property. 2008. Photograph. The Critical Arizonian. WordPress, 17 Jan. 2012. Web.

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