One of the few things that libertarians get right is that the foundation of Western civilization is private property. They claim this is a universal reality, which is clearly incorrect, but it is true with regards to Western civilization. The assumption that a man owns the produce of his labor is the main difference between Europeans and the other people of the world. It forms the foundation of law and the logic of political organization, in addition to being the bedrock of Western economic systems.
What libertarians get wrong is that you can create a society where government only protects private property and does nothing else. As with so many things, they get the causal relationship backwards. Like everything else about human society, the concept of private property is downstream from biology and culture. Therefore, the primary reason to have a state is to defend the people and their way of life. Private property is one attribute of Western people’s way of life.
Putting that aside, the ape historians in the glorious future will no doubt trace the decline of Western man to the decline in private property. It will not begin with socialism or other economic concepts. Those are far downstream from what really matters to a people and their way of life. The Nordic people made socialism work while at the same time maintaining the concept of private property. They simply struck a different balance between property and culture than other occidentals
The erosion of this key facet of the West starts further up the chain of causality at the cultural level. This is where the abstract concept of property exists, the platonic form of private property. This is where the wreckers and subversive have gnawed away at the concept in little ways, thus making it less clear downstream. As a result, the idea of private property has slowly receded from the public discourse with regards to politics and economics, even within socialist debates.
Take, for example, the internet. It exists because thousands of people working in government institutions invented a way to link computers into a network. This is why the internet is a public good. It is the creation of public institutions, in the same way the highway system is a public good. The internet was further built out by private companies seeking to profit from the exchange of information, much in the same way merchants use the highway system to profit from commerce.
This is true with regards to e-commerce. Jeff Bezos is able to hurl himself to the edge of the atmosphere in a giant phallus, because he got rich selling stuff on-line. Like all large corporations, he also bought indulgences from the government, in order to gain an advantage over rivals. First it was not paying sales tax and then he moved onto direct subsidies from state and local government for his supply chain. Like other big retailers. Amazon would not exist without government subsidy.
Amazon, however, is the exception. The rest of the tech oligarchs made their money stealing the property of others. Facebook, for example, sells the property of its users to companies looking for data on the population. They call this marketing revenue, but in reality, it is just theft. They steal the labor of their users and then sell it to interested parties without the knowledge of their users. It is a form of slavery in which the user base volunteers to give away their labor to the platform owner.
Many will push back against this characterization. After all, they will say, the service is free, and the real product Facebook is selling is their own creation. They use their technology to capture human activity. Then they make it accessible in a friendly format for their actual customers, the people paying them. The users, because they are choosing to use the platform, are choosing to abide by an agreement they never read and therefore agree to allow Facebook to steal their property.
That right there is how the concept of private property is eroded at the abstract layer of Western civilization. Most people, even classical liberal types, think what the tech companies are doing is legitimate commerce. They have accepted this degraded version of property that carves out an exception to the laws covering property to allow for what amounts to theft. If Claude-Frédéric Bastiat was sent through the time portal to this age, he would call the internet “legal plunder.”
That is what we are seeing, legal plunder. Property is the product of human labor, both physical labor and mental labor. The business owner, the man who organizes men and material to produce goods and services, sees the return on his intellectual labor in the form of profit. It is his ideas and organizational talent that makes the enterprise possible and maintains its operations. The Marxists always attacked this idea but could never get around the reality of intellectual property being the fruit of labor.
Instead, the way around this problem is to attack the concept that you own you and therefore you own your labor. If Facebook can watch you on-line, track your activity through your mobile device, then sell this activity to their customers, it means one of two things. Either you no longer own you or we no longer have private property. After all, your activity is the product of your labor, so if you own you, then you own your activity and Facebook is stealing. Otherwise, you no longer own you.
If we return to the original Western concept of property, then you not only own your activity but also your reputation and your defining attributes. If a company wishes to use these things in a product, then they would need to strike a deal with you in the same way they would if they wanted your physical labor. If Facebook wanted to sell your data, they would need to get your permission every time they sold your data. The mobile devise makers would have to pay you to use their phones.
Of course, this is not present reality. The assumption is that you do not, in fact, own you, so all of this is perfectly normal. The reason enterprising lawyers have not proposed a novel legal theory to the court based on the ancient concepts of private property is that no one questions the right of the tech companies to harvest your property. The state is acting on this new normal as well. New laws, for example, have been passed to require alcohol tracking devices in new cars.
A world in which you do not own you is called a penitentiary. The phrase “lock down” was quickly normalized, despite being a prison term, because the population has been habituated to the idea that they do not own themselves. Of course, the state can lock you in your home. After all, they can determine your associations and they allow private enterprise to spy on you in your home. You don’t own you. Like a pet, you are the property of powerful interests, and you must do as you are trained.
The point of the state is to preserve the people and their way of life. This is its primary reason to exist. The secondary and tertiary reasons, like crime control and tending to the poor are all dependent on the people and their way of life. The defense of property is one of those attributes of culture the state must defend. The failure of the elites to defend the people and their way of life starts with this Western notion that you own you and all that you produce. That failure is the death of the West.
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