Posted: Mar 31, 2014 8:22 pm
by Beatsong
laklak wrote:There's always a lot of talk around here about "wealth inequality" and "redistribution". In this thread, particularly as it relates to inheritance or estate taxes. It isn't fair that that poncey git gets a couple of million quid when his daddy pops his clogs and I don't. So we'll take it from him and redistribute it to "the people", because, after all, he didn't "earn" that money. Well, neither did The People. I'll never understand how it's considered immoral to take unearned money from your parents but it isn't immoral to take unearned money from total strangers.

The problem with your objection is that it takes the personal property rights of individuals as they currently exist as axiomatic. The fact that it winds back to acknowledging the property rights of individuals as they currently exist, and denying the validity of challenging those rights, is thus nothing more than circular.

The problem with libertarian conceptions - and even many capitalist conceptions - of property rights, is that they ignore the fact that property right ITSELF only exists by the agreement of society. You own your house, your money, your guns, whatever, by virtue of the fact that you live in a society that recognises your name as owner on the title deed or bank account, has laws against infringement of that ownership, and supports a judiciary and police force to enforce those laws. Without those things there IS NO "gets", "take", "earns" or any of the other words that make your paragraph above mean anything. You can do a Seth and claim how you have those rights according to some bizarre woo-infested claim about the little homunculous at the wheel of nature, but then you're talking about something else. You're talking about a claim, not a right, It only becomes a right when other people agree with you about it (not necessarily everyone, but enough people to maintain a social fabric based on acceptance of such laws and customs).

What follows from this is a fundamental circularity. You rail against people claiming that "the people" have some right to "take" X amount of wealth from some individual for redistribution, while completely ignoring the fact that the wealth is only "his" by virtue of the agreement of "the people" in the first place.

If you really want to consider wealth as "belonging" to an individual in an absolute sense, which is in no way subject to anything to do with society, then fine. All I have to do then is come along and steal all your wealth, and we don't have to have this conversation. Because of course you wouldn't dream of getting the police or judiciary involved, would you? That would just be SOCIETY telling me what do or don't have a right to own, and they've got no right to do that, have they?

The point is that the social conversation about how we call some things the property of some individuals, pass and maintain laws to enforce that claim and prevent others from infringing upon it, is part of the same conversation that we have about the limitations of that process, and about how we promote equality of opportunity so that everybody can have a fair crack of the whip at acquiring such property. It's one conversation. Libertarians and right wing capitalists try to pretend that it's two separate ones, that the first one has already been had and resolved and can't possibly be reopened again, and means that 1% of the British population owns 70% of the island and there's nothing anyone can do about it, because "that's just the way it is". The second conversation (about redistribution etc.) can then be dismissed as immoral to even consider because it violates the cast iron conclusions of the first conversation.

But that's a lie because the first conversation only gets its validity from the same factors of social agreement that give the second conversation validity too. What does it means to say this is "mine"? What does it mean to agree that this is "yours"? What gives you the right to call it "yours"? What gives you the right to circumscribe my behaviour in relation to the thing, by telling me that it's "yours" and not "mine"? Etc. etc.

Socialism is not based on taking and redistributing the wealth of individuals, as you claim. It's based on looking more deeply and honestly at the process by which we associate wealth with individuals in the first place, exactly what's involved in that association and on what basis we choose to continue making it. That isn't doing anything different from what you do all the time: you call things "property" and invoke the power OF SOCIETY to maintain their status as such.