In my last post, I spoke of how it is human nature for dogmatists and aristocrats to join forces, finding lovely phrases and justifications for taking over the machinery of the state and then using it (and the distraction of war) to enforce a pyramidal hierarchy of privilege. Suppressing true markets and finding excuses to quash competition from the lower orders. Taxing everybody but themselves. Granting themselves contracts and/or even gifts from the state treasury. Justifying secrecy and closed courts and cronyism and evasion of every kind of accountability.
Hence my suggestion that transparency should precede any push for universal property law. The people of the world will (rightfully) be suspicious that "property rights" enthusiasts are allies of the "propertarians" who want the social pyramid back.
Right now, there is a weird alliance among "social" conservatives, "aristocratic" conservatives, and "market" conservatives who, in fact, have very little common ground when it comes to their vision of a future world. (see: http://www.davidbrin.com/questionnaire.html for a poll or "questionnaire on ideology" that is designed to draw our such dismal, ill-considered alliances into stark contrast. Should you ally yourself with someone who uses similar terminology for surfaces, but has a totally different long term goal than you do?)
Right now, the very word "conservative" is used to mask the fact that one group wants dynamic markets and measures our success according to the rate of small business startups, vigorous investment in new business opportunities, social mobility for those who exhibit honest ambition and hard work, and rapid rewards for innovation. Sooner or later, champions of markets will realize that these traits are being systematically quashed by others who use "conservative" to mask a different agenda. The old agenda that destroyed every other market system on record.
Markets are the OPPOSITE of aristocratism. When we acknowledge this, "property rights" can be detached from "propertarianism" for good,
One sign of this will be the push for transparency... the trait that feeds science, democracy, justice and markets. The trait without which they all die.
Let's try a thought experiment. Suppose it were declared, by worldwide treaty, that everybody who owns something must step forward and avow that "I own that". Would this harm markets and/or genuine property rights?
How could it? The whole theory of capitalism is based upon making informed deals, whether you are rich or poor, based upon reliably enforceable contracts, entered into by knowledgable parties. The parties need not be equally rich or empowered for this to work! (An oversimplifying misconception of the left.) Economists have long held that a well-informed and legally free peasant should be able to dicker for his labor and at least gradually bargain for an improved situation arising from that labor. Even if you are a social darwinist, you should at least agree that all parties should be well-informed and legally free.
(Ask your libertarian friends if they would have supported southern slave owners or King Louis. The myopic temporal shortsightedness of, say, the Cato Institute, is mind boggling.)
If world market capitalism cannot be a process based upon fair and open knowledge, plus equality under law, then the people defending it are hypocrites. If they are not hypocrites, then there should be no problem with every person on Earth knowing who owns what, so that all decisions can be well-informed. (It could be accompanied by all sorts of amnesties and legal assurances against confiscation.)
Indeed, this is the one way to prove that right-handed solutions, empowering all the world's people to participate in fair markets, can engender as much progress as any solution offered by the left.
Heck, if that happened, there would be one staggeringly huge side effect. There'd be lots of UNCLAIMED property. The amount might be so huge that we could do without any taxes, worldwide, for a decade! The undermining of criminal gang wealth, alone, could make the whole thing worthwhile. (Drug dealers and state-corruption kleptocrats would not dare to openly claim most of what they've grabbed.)
Yes, there would also ensue a decade of frenetic lawsuits, where openly-avowed claims overlap. But would not that very process establish the property law we all want to see in those nations?
If that happened, there would be no need - at least on the first order - to confiscate any legitimate property from the honest rich. Moreover, the world's poor would see in this an act of tremendous good faith. One that could thereupon smoothly flow into genuine property rights for everybody, including the poor. One that might also help to forestall any slide into class warfare, a disease that feeds upon resented unfairness, as much as on actual disparity of wealth.
Yes, it sounds like science fiction. But is it really all that implausible? Simply to declare, "you all have five years to openly declare that you own what you own." How is that any more unfair to the rich man who must acknowledge that he owns a leaky tanker, than it is to a poor seamstress who must admit that she owns a leaky latrine?
Sorry to have gone on. But this needed some analysis. In any event, I think that it is essential to emphasize this point. It is one thing to point out the genuine conceptual flaws of the socialists "left". I agree for the most part. Marxism is as loony as Rand-ism. A sci fi tale about some other species. Not humanity.
Still, it is another matter to utterly ignore the fantastic hypocrisy of the "right"... to deny that aristocratism is a natural human evil that killed nearly every truly competitive market - and freedom itself - in nearly every human society.
It is the great enemy of the enlightenment and of genuine property rights. Show your honesty by facing that fact. Dealing with it.
And see clearly the problem that lies before us... a new church-state-gentry alliance that has reared up to assail our Enlightenment, yet again.
return to Part 1 of this series