Re: Capitalism, Private Property, etc (was Re: Sweatshops)

From: Technotranscendence (
Date: Thu Apr 19 2001 - 00:05:23 MDT

On Wednesday, April 18, 2001 5:52 PM J. Goard wrote:
> >B.3.1 What is the difference between private property
> >and possession?
> >Anarchists define "private property" (or just
> >"property," for short) as state-protected monopolies
> >of certain objects or privileges which are used to
> >exploit others. "Possession," on the other hand, is
> >ownership of things that are not used to exploit
> >others (e.g. a car, a refrigerator, a toothbrush,
> >etc.)
> I should point out that this left-anarchist definition of "property" is
> being defined in terms of an equally tricky concept of "exploitation," and
> that the term "monopoly" is used here in a very odd sense with little
> connection to its use in the economic literature.
> The economically meaningful definition of a monopoly is: a situation where
> a monopolist "can secure higher net proceeds by selling a smaller quantity
> of his product at a higher price than by selling a greater quantity at a
> lower price." (von Mises, _Human Action_, XV.6) It does not mean simply
> private control over a commodity. I can own a number of houses and rent
> them out, but (whether my ownership is protected by a national government,
> by a private defense agency, or just by me and my family with lots of
> I won't be able to significantly increase the market price of housing by
> boarding up some of my own houses, and therefore all of my supply will be
> made available at the market rate. The concept of monopoly used here is
> any sort of protected claim of ownership to something that is a factor of
> production rather than a personal consumptive item, IOW "property."

I even find von Mises definition a bit problematic. Granted, it's closer to
how most economists and most people use the term, but I find Rothbard's of
"a grant of special privilige from the State reserving a certain area of
production to one particular individual or group." (See "A Critique of
Neoclassical and Austrian Monopoly Theory" by D. T. Armentano in _New
Directions in Austrian Economics_, Louis M. Spadaro, editor.) Note the
"area of production" in Rothbard's definition -- Rothbard was a
capitalist-anarchist -- rules out private property as necessarily

In a sense too, the widening of the definition of monopoly that is being
used here can be extended to anything. Each person, after all, has a
monopoly in the previous usage of the term over his or her labor and person.
Is, e.g., an employee exploiting the employer when he or she only rents out
the use of his or her skills?

> Left-anarchists feel they can make this distinction between "possessions"
> and "property" because they don't understand the productive role played by
> the wise alignment of capital by entrepreneurs. What a left-anarchist
> calls "exploitation" is really just making wealth by correctly deciding
> what most needs to get done rather than by doing the getting-done. But
> former is just an example of the latter, a skill that happens to be
> exceedingly rare and therefore carries a high price.

I think this problem is not restricted to Left-anarchists. It's a much
wider problem with the way some look at all sorts of activities. We see it
when people shake their fists at someone making a killing through some
nonfraudulent investment vehicle, such as futures contracts, mutual funds,
hedge funds, and the like. Wealth creation, to this line of thinking, is
manual labor and anything that makes money that doesn't involve direct
manual labor must, therefore, be taking from some manual laborers.

The problem with this view is that it looks at economics (and property and
human life) in completely perceptual terms, treating manual labor as
separate from all else in a very undialectical even atomistic fashion. The
manual laborer, by this view, creates the real stuff and anything above that
level -- managers, entrepreneurs, bankers, investors, financial forecasters,
arbitragers, R&D people -- are not adding wealth. This view totally
disregards the mind and its place in the economy.

And I agree, entrepreneurial skills are rare... and seemingly
unteachable -- else Harvard or Wharton would be churning them out. A free
market, at least, gives room for such skills to flourish.


Daniel Ust

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