Here’s an excellent analysis and response to Matt Bruenig’s purposefully obtuse Why Have Property At All? by David S D’Amato. At the heart of the argument is the idea that private property is inherently “mnopolistic” and hence restricts freedom by disallowing use of said things by all.
It sounds great, except it’s rubbish. Even in a communist society, property is held by something or someone — the state, the Party, the bureaucracy. Remember that initiall, the Russian revolutionaries were going to give the farms to the serfs that had worked them, but instead snagged everything they could to state control, so that the apparatchik’s could benefit from them…and they continue to today, in the kleptocratic, fascist economy of modern Russia. They just call themselves “businessmen” now.
At the heart of the issue is the notion of ownership — all people have one piece of property that should never be stripped from them: their body. Their living corpus is their first piece of property, and all other property proceeds from the use of this body and mind. The money you earn, the things you buy, are all manifestations of your labor or invention. Private property helps to ensure the survival of that primal piece of property, the body your consciousness inhabits.
Clothing, food or the means to get it (weapons), a house, a parcel of land to farm or use — these are all elements necessary to the survival of the human being. Property is, therefore, an extension of yourself — something any five year old understands.
The idea that coercion is always used to obtain property is Bruenig’s main strawman here, and it is a demonstrably false proposition. Were he right, you wouldn’t buy property, you would be murdering someone in ritual combat to gain your fiefdom. In the past, that is certainly a valid criticism, and the aristocracy based on violence and coercion was a major foil for early capitalist thought, was Adam Smith’s main point of criticism, and remains — in the form of the political class today — an antagonist to libertarians everywhere. Bruenig’s fallacious premise shows his true stripes — the acadenic who sides with government intervention and theft because, as an “expert”, he views himself as part of that ruling class, however unconsciously.
D’Amato addresses the notion that property is monopolistic very well:
Libertarians unreservedly agree with Bruenig that true liberty cannot mean an economically privileged group “fencing off” resources, forcibly excluding and thereby starving everyone around them. We come, perhaps, to the heart of the matter: Since we cannot avoid the fact of assigning ownership rights in society, we must ask what kinds of property rights best serve the primary goal—maximizing the freedom of all individuals, while ensuring that no one can transgress the legitimate sphere of sovereignty rightfully surrounding each other individual. When is property actually “liberty-infringing” (as so worries Bruenig), and when is it a just and proper defense of an individual’s rights? It is this line—the one that divides defensive force from aggressive or invasive force—that interests libertarians and informs our practical prescriptions as regard property.
The trade in property — from garments made or food farmed, to iPads and cell phones, to automobiles, and ultimately, real estate — are cooperative in nature, and the ability to find profit or solace in an object or place, is imperative to self-incentive. The notion that stealing land or products from someone is central to a political philosophy that views coercion as wrong shows a misunderstanding of these ideals, or is actively seeking to mischaracterize them. (I feel the latter is the much more likely motivation.)
All of the events that might be used to characterize capitalism’s “evils” were usually mercantilistic in nature — from the slave trade, which was initiated by the rulers of various tribes and Portugal; to the homesteading of the American West and Australia; to the confiscation and reallocation of property in communist countries — these were the policies of a political class…aristocrats, if you will, who sought personal or national profit from the theft. A perfect example would be Andrew Jackson’s removal of the Cherokee out of prime Georgia land despite the Supreme Court finding for the property rights of the tribe.
States hide behind their monopoly of the legitimacy of force to engage in the sorts of monopolistic use of resources that Bruenig is accusing the average person of. Save you don’t have this monopoly on force; you have to prove the legitimacy of force you initiate — be it using deadly force to defend yourself, or when taking someone’s property or money without their consent.
Property rights manifest when people acknowledge someone’s legitimate right to exclusive use, either because the object in question was made, loaned, or purchased by the possessor. This acknowledgement requires cooperation. To have your ownership recognized comes with the requirement that you reciprocate with the others in society.
The mischaracterization of libertarian thought has become trendy, of late, because it does stimulate liberty and self-actualization — something that aristocrats fear, as it reduces their power, and in some ways more importantly, their sense of exclusivity. Those that support these “elites” often self-identify, or are dependent on these worthies, and will fervently defend the system that protects them.