Sarah Kopser, Period1, Honorbound
Private Property Please
Think of the last time someone took something of yours and never gave it back. Private property is a touchy subject. When a custom exists for a long period of time, it seems innate and necessary to its people, like the ownership of private property. As an American, taking a second look at the practice of private property proves insightful and intriguing. In 1710, France possessed near to ten million acres of communal land, and England had a few million shared acres as well. Native Americans shared land until they were forced off of it and on to reservations by settlers; they believed no one could “own” land, the idea was absurd. Even today, the lack of private property is present in countries around the world. The Index of Economic Freedom 2013 website has scored every country (excluding eight Middle East countries) in the world on a scale of 0 to 100 in regard to their Property Rights. (Score of 0 means no private property; score of 100 means complete private property) The two lowest scorers were North Korea with a score of 5 and Cuba with a score of 10. North Korea is a communist dictatorship, and Cuba is a one-party communist state. On the other hand, the two highest scoring countries were Singapore and Hong Kong with a tied score of 90. Singapore is a parliamentary democracy and Hong Kong is a limited democracy. Before declaring which property system is just or good, both famous philosophers Karl Marx and Ludwig von Mises should be heard out; the two intelligent philosophers possess near opposite takes on the issue that are worth understanding and considering.
Karl Marx (1818-1883) states in his book The Communist Manifesto “Private property is the result of alienated labor. Private property is also the means by which labor is alienated.” He believes that private property is the reverse of labor and capital. For under the economic structure of private ownership, society separates itself into the two categories of the property owners and those without property. After this separation, the workers suffer poverty and face isolation and disaffection. The abolition of private property is the most basic definition of Karl Marx’s communism. Applying his ideology to Property Rights highest scorer, Hong Kong, in 2013, he does possess a valid point. In Hong Kong, legally, 15 year olds can work up to near 50 hours per week; they must also be attending school full time to qualify to work (so 50 hours of work per week plus homework!). This situation of Hong Kong is a basic example proving Marx’s point. There has been no elimination of private property in Hong Kong, so the bourgeoisie (employers) are exploiting the labor of the proletariat (wage laborer/15 year olds of Hong Kong). The child working for the wage of the factory will never be able to own the factory; this situation proves the utmost unfairness because it is a near unbreakable cycle. The proletariat class must sell their labor in order to live, and private property allows for that exploitation. For if there were no private property, the bourgeoisie wouldn’t have the means to exploit the wage laborers, and there would be more equality and less class struggle. Karl Marx is a great believer in equality. His plan sounds logical.
On the other hand, Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) states in his book Human Action: A Treatise on Economics, The Market “If history could teach us anything, it would be that private property is inextricably linked with civilization.” Von Mises believes that private property is a human right and that it is ethical, and he believes it is the fundamental institution of the market economy because it defines the market economy. Therefore, when private property is absent, there is no question of a market economy. Von Mises accepts as true that private property is the basis for civilizational advance. Ludwig von Mises also believes that ownership of private property is an asset just for the people who possess the knowledge of how to employ it in the best way possible for the benefit of the consumers. According to Von Mises, “Capitalism gives to the many a favorable chance of striving after [the socially and economically good things]” unlike communism that allows for good things available only to a very small group of people (typically government leaders). Ludwig’s beliefs can be applied to the Property Rights lowest scorer of 2013, North Korea. North Korea demonstrates how in a society where private property is absent, a market economy is impossible. Due to the nonexistence of a market economy, North Korea’s formal trade is minimal and the financial sector is firmly controlled by the state, resulting in a poor economy. Also, North Korea demonstrates how a society repressed from private property is unable to achieve civilizational advance, for North Korea is a most underdeveloped country. Lastly, Von Mises’s comment about the socially and economically good things only being available to a select group of people is highly relevant because North Korea’s leader owns multiple limousines and other luxuries while his people suffer.
Overall, neither Marx’s solution nor Von Mises’s solution prove itself the perfect solution. Each theory proves a point backed by a current statistic against the other; the theories are strong because they have withstood the test of time. Yet, back to the original question, which system is just or better for society as a whole? Although Von Mises’s theory of private property being good has some holes where injustices fall through, as Karl Marx pointed out, it is still the better option of the two. The ground for this conclusion is that Hong Kong allows for its people to exercise their reason with private property; through ownership they are able to trade and sell. Trade increases the total happiness. The people of Hong Kong are making something out of their lives, and society is benefitting from it. Hong Kong’s economy is thriving. Personally, I would much rather prefer to live in Hong Kong than North Korea. The faults that Marx pointed out in a society like Hong Kong’s can be solved in other ways like the passage of laws banning child labor and the formation of stronger labor unions. There is a magical concept called legislation that can help resolve all the “holes”. Marx’s ideal society is an unnecessary, harsh repression to mankind. Marx’s arguments are logical but don’t account for the fact that human beings generally do not wish to be treated like gerbils sharing a cage and having a few resources being divvied out to its inhabitants by the owner. Marx’s society can never work because humans are greedy and smarter than gerbils. There are always humans looking to cheat the system and, in the case of private property, attain private property (like the leader of North Korea), and the Marx system becomes corrupt and collapses on its own ideals. Von Mises argument has won this time. As the title states, private property, please!
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