The Occupy moment, though, does not just outline the problem, it also seeks to outline a solution. While I agree with the Occupy folks that there is a *serious* problem that we as a country face, I'd say that their proposed solutions are built on shaky ground. The Occupy movement is scattered enough that it can be hard to say what their proposed solutions are, but here are some of the more prominent ones:
#1: ALL PRIVATE MONEY OUT OF POLITICS: a full overhaul of the electoral system/ a reduction in the influence of corporations on politics1
#2: MORE AND BETTER JOBS AVAILABLE TO ALL2
#3: REDISTRIBUTION OF WEALTH (more equal distribution of income): “take 95% of the private and corporate wealth over, say, 1 million dollars net worth and/or income, and use it to fund fair-waged jobs”3
#4: BANKING AND SECURITY REFORM (and forgiveness of student loan debt)4
Communism and Private Property Rights
Now before we look at these in more detail, lets take a step back and look at the bigger picture. In the title of this blog post, I brought up the topic of communism; from my point of view, the Occupy movement definitely resembles some Communist-style proposed solutions to the economic problems facing us. Karl Marx wrote about the 10 pillars of Communism in his book The Communist-Manifesto, and here I will list some of the ones that are already in effect (bold) or being requested by the Occupy movement (italicized):
1. Abolition of private property and the application of all rents of land to public purposes.
2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance (Partly in effect: The death tax)
5. Centralization of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly. (i.e. The Federal Reserve)
6. Centralization of the means of communications and transportation in the hands of the State. (State-controlled driver licensing, registration, highway speed control, etc)
8. Equal liability of all to labor.
10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children's factory labor in its present form. 5
“Of course, in the beginning this cannot be effected except by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property and on the conditions of [production.]” -Karl Marx
“...the theory of the Communist may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.” -Karl Marx5
So what's the big deal about private property? The main difference between a free country (capitalist) and a communist country is that in a free country, you reap what you sow. You keep what you built and what you earn: it's yours, and it's your own private property. In a Communist community, nothing is yours, and everything is everyone's. Economically, this model has been shown to fail again and again in both large scale and small scale practice.
Now, surely people would object to all of their property being taken away, one might think. How did Marx talk them into it? Well, he spoke mainly of taking away the property of the “bourgeois” (i.e. the middle class. Those who own property. Rich people. Owners of companies even.) The first chapter of his book speaks of all the evil of these people,
“In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, brutal exploitation... The [middle class] has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.” - Karl Marx
This reminds me of the Declaration of the Occupation of New York City:
“We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments.”6
Marx's solution was to make “despotic inroads on the rights of property,” and what do the Occupy people have to say about private property? Well let's look at their name first. Occupy. Where did they come from? Well, the people in this movement stay and camp out on property which is not for camping or residential (living) use, and disobey trespassing laws. They Occupy property. That's interesting. What's also interesting is how many of their goals have to do with private property. Look at them one at a time.
Occupy and Private Property Rights
#1: ALL PRIVATE MONEY OUT OF POLITICS
“Therefore, the 99% of the American People demand an immediate ban on all direct and indirect private contributions of anything of value, to all politicians serving in or running for federal office in the United States.
...Therefore, all private funding of political campaigns shall be replaced by the fair, equal and TOTAL public financing of all federal political campaigns.”1
What does this have to do with property rights? First of all, you are disallowed to give your money to support the causes you want to. It's not yours to give away. But even if we accept the idea that it's wrong to give money to the political system, then how will information about candidates spread? Through public financing! Right now, I am not donating money to any political cause. If this were in effect, the government would take more of my money by force (taxation) to finance political candidates. Money is not yours to keep. Private property including everything that is yours, including your money. This Occupy request asks that the government should prohibit you from using money the way you like, and should take money that you would like to keep. In other words: The government, and not you, has ultimate rights over the usage of your property.
On a practical level: Politicians are supported by the people of the US, not only through votes in the election but only through monetary donation. Is it corruption to let the people have a say in who they want in office? And if the government were financing political campaigns, who would they choose to publicize, and who wouldn't they support? There would have to be some limit to the number of people whose campaigns they publicize, but it would be determined not by the monetary support of the people, but support from the government. No way letting government official pick new government officials could possibly go wrong...
#2: MORE AND BETTER JOBS AVAILABLE TO ALL
I fully support this goal. And I think that the best way for there to be more and better jobs is for the economy to improve, and taxation to decrease, which would allow corporations to flourish and high more people and be able to pay people more.
In a free market, if two people make a trade (stuff for stuff, stuff for money, money for work), it is only because both people want to make the trade, and both profit. If the trade must be forced, it's because it's not in the best interests of one or both people.
The Occupy movements asks for higher paying jobs for lower-skill tasks, and for the government to intervene and regulate to make these jobs available. They are not requesting that the things holding back the economy be taken out of the way. They are asking for forced work-money trades. If you can be forced to trade away someone of yours, then again, you don't have authority over your private property.
#3: REDISTRIBUTION OF WEALTH
“We are the 99%” One of the main mantras of the movement is that the richest 1% in America has too much money, while the rest of us has not enough. Therefore, we should take away their money and give it to everyone who needs it. When a young man in the hood doesn't have as much money as the top 1% in his city, and takes a gun and uses it to persuade a rich person to give up some of that “excess wealth” and redistribute it to a less wealthy person (himself), we call that theft. Why is it theft? Because one person used force to take property from another person who owned it.
But what if all the people from all the hoods vote, and use the sheriffs gun to forcibly take money from all the rich people in the country?
Call it theft or call it redistribution, but either way: The rich people no longer have rights over their private property. The government has rights to take their private property to give to other people. What's yours is the governments.
#4: BANKING AND SECURITY REFORM (and forgiveness of student loan debt)
“The People further demand an immediate investigation by the Justice Department into the potential criminal practices of the Securities and Banking industry that directly led to the collapse of markets, mortgage-backed securities fraud, foreclosure crisis, trillion dollar bank bail-out and firm failures in 2007-2008.
New uniform federal regulations enacted to specifically limit what banks may charge consumers for ATM fees and/or the use of debit cards and other so-called miscellaneous fees.”4
The first part I agree with. There was a lot of government corruption (mainly involving the Federal Reserve, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) that led to a lot of risky loans being given out to people who could not afford them – with any gains going to the company, and any losses being transferred to the taxpayers through bailouts and whatnot. This system is still in operation today.
The second part tries to get government to force banks to use their personal property in specific ways (and not use their property in other ways). Again the government has rights over the people's so called “private” property.
The forgiveness of student loans? Well, if the banks want to forgive those loans out of the goodness of their heart (and to their financial detriment), then that's up to them. But for the government to force banks to forget about all that money they gave out under contract that it would be repaid - then it's the government taking control of that money, taking it from the bank, and giving it to individuals. Once again, the government ends up with usage rights of the institution's private property.
Therefore, all four of these Occupy requests end up with the government having the right to control the way you spend your money, and the right to control which money you keep, and which of your money it wants to take and give to someone else. That's kinda like when you put your money in the bank, and then you control how the bank spends that money (by writing checks and telling the bank to pay your credit cards), choose how much of your money the bank keeps there, and decide which of your money your want to take and give to someone else. In the Occupy system, then, individuals would just be like banks for the government's money and property, to be taken and used (or prohibited from use) at the government's desire.
There goes private property.
Now all I've done so far is to say that the Occupy movement is very similar to the Communist party, and both focus on government control of resources and abolition of private property. But I have not yet said that this is a bad thing. That will require another blog post!
But what if private property isn't really a right?
Why would we think that the abolition of private property is a bad thing?
What does the Bible say about the Christian view of property rights and charity?
See PART TWO
Good Communist Occupiers:
“In short, the Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things.
In all of these moments they bring, to the front, as the leading question in each, the property question, no matter what its degree of development at the time.
Finally, they labor everywhere for the union and agreement of the democratic parties of all countries.
...The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workingmen of all countries unite!” - Karl Marx
5: The Communist Manifesto