THE Global Justice Movement Website

THE Global Justice Movement Website
This is the "Global Justice Movement" (dot org) we refer to in the title of this blog.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Property, Power and Production

In the previous posting on this subject, we looked briefly at the “Great Reset” and similar proposals and contrasted them with the demands of human dignity.  The basic idea seems to be that everyone should have “enough,” and that the system should be reorganized to provide it.  As far as many people today are concerned, the main problem is how to get what people need directly into the hands of the people who need it.


There is, however, a difficulty or two with the proposed solutions.  It might sound simplistic, but a large part of the problem — or a large number of the problems — that expedients such as the Great Reset and stakeholder capitalism are trying to solve can be traced to the inability of most people to be truly productive and thus fulfill the basic human need to be useful.  This, in turn, is due primarily to the fact that productive and other technology has been advancing rapidly for the past two-hundred and fifty years or so, while human labor has stayed essentially the same since Adam and Eve.

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, advances in technology had tended to make everyone more productive,  This is because they were usually relatively simple, low-cost, easily manufactured, and owned by those engaged in production.  A propertyless worker was something of an anomaly who sometimes did not even have personality, a recognized social identity.



Propertyless workers were nothing.  Aristotle called a nominally free, but non-owning worker a “masterless slave” who did not even have the status of an actual slave, who had a social identity as an owned thing. (Aristotle, The Politics, 1260a36-1260b7, 1-2.  See also Louis O. Kelso and Mortimer J. Adler, The Capitalist Manifesto.  New York: Random House, 1958, 13-29.)

The Industrial Revolution changed how people and technology interacted.  Previous advances in technology could generally be purchased by anyone who had worked hard for a few months or years and saved a little money.  The new machinery, however, could not only produce far more in a day than human labor could turn out in a lifetime, it also cost far more than any one individual could save over the course of a working career.

Ownership of the new technology became owned by the few who had access to money and credit.  This meant either the accumulated (“past”) savings of themselves or others (which was negligible), or “future savings” made available through the commercial, mercantile and central banking system — which made all the difference.

Hilaire Belloc


The world’s great fortunes have typically been built on access to future savings (future increases in production), not past savings (past reductions in consumption).  The image of the rich man sitting around with bags of cash has little basis in reality.  Wealth is almost always in the form of productive capital, not accumulated symbols of other people’s wealth.

Thus (to take one example), Hilaire Belloc’s analysis of this problem, while logical within the past savings framework, did not reflect an accurate understanding of money, credit, banking and finance.  (Hilaire Belloc, The Servile State.  Indianapolis, Indiana: Liberty Fund, Inc., 1977, 97-105.) As a result, Belloc’s recommendations to correct the problems tended to be not merely extremely complex and convoluted, but ultimately anti-personalist and self-defeating.  He advocated policies that would treat some persons as inherently different from others based on their wealth or social status, and rely on imposing disabilities instead of removing barriers to full participation in the common good. (Hilaire Belloc, An Essay on the Restoration of Property.  New York: Sheed and Ward, Inc., 1936, 49-57, 68-79, 103-144.)

Belloc, did, however, recognize as a result of the Industrial Revolution that thinking had changed from property to income: “When men have become wage-slaves they think in terms of income.  When they are economically free they think in terms of property.” (Ibid., 103.)

G.K. Chesterton


George Bernard Shaw and Gilbert Keith Chesterton also raised this point in their final debate in 1927, “Do We Agree?”  Chesterton put the issue in terms of the power that necessarily follows property, while Shaw insisted that mere income is not only the most important thing, it is the only thing.

Chesterton’s position was personalist, and thus human, while Shaw’s was not.  The inability to be productive whether through labor or capital leads in turn to loss of power and thus of control over one’s own life.  This inhibits or prevents becoming virtuous as an ordinary thing, forcing people to exercise heroic virtue just to meet minimum standards of human behavior.

Assuming (as did Shaw) or mandating that most people can gain income only by working for those who own capital, whether you call it capitalism or socialism, ensures that most people cannot own capital.  They are therefore unable to be productive in any meaningful sense as technology displaces human labor.

Redistribution and make-work take the place of genuinely productive activity.  Most people become powerless and thus unable to become virtuous in the ordinary course of events.  They tend to drift away from anything, such as traditional education, religion or family life, that does not offer immediate or measurable results or gratification.  Higher education becomes job training, churches become social service agencies and cultural centers, and marriage and family are redefined to satisfy individual demands and political agendas.

George Bernard Shaw


Out of frustration or concern, old leaders start giving heed to proposals that will mandate that people do as they ought so they will be virtuous again, or new leaders arise, promising to restore the old order or bring about a better new one.  The problem, of course, is that virtue cannot be mandated or coerced, and someone’s romantic vision of the old order or ideal new one might not match that of anyone else or even conform to reality.

And that is the big problem with the Great Reset and similar proposals.  Proponents all take as a starting point the way they think things should be, and compound the error by assuming that their vision can be imposed by universal fiat.

Proponents also forget as a matter of course that measures that may be absolutely essential in the short run, such as stimulus payments, redistribution, job creation, full employment, and so on, are not solutions.  Nor can even the most essential programs be sustained, financially or economically, indefinitely as solutions, although they can and often must be maintained as adjuncts to an otherwise sound economic and social system.  After all, if everyone is receiving a Universal Basic Income without having to produce marketable goods or services by means of their capital or labor, who produces the goods and services to be purchased with the UBI?

No, it is not enough merely to provide people with income so they can consume.  As should be obvious, if people are to consume, they must produce..