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Limits of Private Property

by Stephan Schilling Sunday, May. 11, 2008 at 2:16 AM
mbatko@lycos.com

If life does not consist in the abundance of things and if time is borrowed from the future, do possessions invalidate community? Is life colonized by instrumental rationality (Habermas) when all life and relations are determined by money?

LIMITS OF PRIVATE PROPERTY

By Stephan Schilling

[This article published in: Attac Rundbrief 1/08 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.attac.de.]




Global capitalism in its current form is increasingly losing legitimacy. Uneasiness grows over the economic model that produces gigantic riches for a minority and social exclusion for more and more people and leads directly to climate catastrophe. Opinion polls on these upheavals and the end of neoliberal hegemony show the shift of political discourse. Social justice and protection of the atmosphere are increasingly serious themes in the debates over minimum wage and in the pleas of the SPD (Social-Democratic party in Germany) and the Greens for credible initiatives in social policy.

The chance of taking a further step in delegitimating the present economic order lies in these changes. Who owns what and what can he do with his possession? These are basic questions to our economic order that we thematicize with the property question and with pat Attac demands like the Tobin tax and just world trade. The property question resonates in the slogan of the World Social Forum of Porto Allegre “The World is not a Commodity.” Now we have the chance to intensify this and make it more explicit.

Consistent alternatives to the existing economic model are rarely presented across the political spectrum by communists or advocates of a socially and ecologically regulated mixed economy. Together we should thematicize the question about the limits of private property. Criticism of accumulation of vast financial assets in the hands of a few that has no legitimation before the backdrop of the poverty of so many and criticism of the growing commercialization of all areas of life and the artificial creation of intellectual property are part of this challenge. We should also ask what owners can legitimately do with their property. Shutting down profitable enterprises to fulfill double-digit profit expectations is certainly not part of this.

CONCRETIZING THE PROPERTY QUESTION

The campaign for the democratic control of electricity companies makes clear the meaning of the property question. With their enormous economic power, four mammoth companies block all efforts at protecting the atmosphere as the construction of 24 new coal power plants proves. The quest for double-digit profits causes electricity prices to rise brutally despite stagnating wages. This is ultimately a massive redistribution from bottom to the top. Thus it is time to raise the property question. Attac’s electricity campaign will explicitly demand dismantling the four conglomerates and their conversion to public property. Without forgetting that Moloch-like state companies like Vattenfall or the French electricity company EDF are not solutions, decentralized businesses that make possible real democratic control are crucial.

Another theme is the current pseudo-debate around managers’ top salaries. The problem is the tremendous profit expectations of owners of capital leading to massive redistribution from wage income to capital income, not the top salaries of managers. 600,000 millionaires live in Germany. Four percent of households possess 1.3 trillion euro of financial assets. The remaining 96 percent own 2.4 trillion euro. 13.5 percent own either nothing or debts. Raising the property question is vital, instead of politically accelerating the process through tax cuts as in the past. [Translator’s note: 1% of the US population have 95% of the assets in our soft-feudalism!]

Such debates will make clear: The time is right to break open a new chapter in the delegitimation of an economic model that brings on social and ecological crises. Attac is the right actor to seriously begin this new chapter.

[Important articles on global justice, anti-militarism, political theory and economic ethics are offered at www.attac.de and www.attac.at.]

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