ParEcon Questions & Answers

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Private Property in Parecon?


fMust we have no private ownership of workplaces?

If some people own means of production and others do not, the former group will at a minimum have way more influence over outcomes than the latter group. More, the former group, whether by way of that power or by way of agreed direct remuneration for the output of owned property, will receive far more of the social product each year per person, often hundreds, thousands, or even millions of times more than the latter group.

Obviously our values of equity and self management are obliterated, and, in that case, also solidarity. There will also be a strong tendency to homogenize the life of the many, so that they might accept their subordinate condition.

There is nothing new about rejecting private ownership of productive assets – workplaces, tools, and resources – but the fact that the insight is old doesn’t imply it is wrong. Nor does the fact that past efforts to overcome private ownership have suffered many flaws imply that doing so must always be flawed. The task is to transcend private ownership of productive property consistently with other equally important aims.

Those who reject this idea will not do so, most often, saying that some individuals deserve to be wealthy essentially without bound while others are poor or just average. Rather, they say, if we don’t allow this gigantic apportionment of income to property we will lose incentives to produce, a claim, which, however, we saw earlier, has literally zero merit.

And of course rejecting private ownership of workplaces and resources doesn’t at all mean people can’t own their own shirts, shoes, personal computers, etc. etc. etc.

I am not convinced, or clear…can you provide a little more detail, please?

Private ownership of the means of production exists when private individuals own the buildings, equipment, tools, technologies, land, and/or resources with which we produce goods and services. Private ownership is relevant to how we evaluate an economy in three senses. By virtue of owning particular items owners decide how they are used, largely rule over their disposition, and accrue income from putting those items to work and claiming all revenues above and beyond costs.

The implications of employing private property for remuneration and decision-making are therefore pretty straightforward. Private property imposes what we earlier called norm one (rewarding property) as a dominant component of income distribution. Likewise, private property affords owners disproportionate say over decisions that involve the disposition of their property even if other people are greatly affected. Thus, when a capitalist employing many people decides to move a firm to a new locale, the impact can devastate the employees fired or the town left behind, yet neither the discarded employees nor the gutted town have significant say in the decision. Likewise, in having dominant say over how a workplace is organized and utilized the owner has vastly dis- proportionate influence over decisions affecting how workers spend their days.

The implications of private ownership for solidarity are largely derivative. By separating those who own means of production from those who don’t, private property generates opposition. The owner tries to extract maximum labor from the workforce as cheaply as possible to generate as much saleable product at as little cost as possible, thereby maximizing profits while also working to maintain the conditions that allow owners to appropriate profits. The non-owner (worker) tries to increase her wage as much as possible and to have as desirable a work day as possible, while increasing her power to demand more and better her economic life. The worker therefore prefers to work less than the owner desires, under better conditions, and with more pay. The opposed motivations of workers and owners create conflict that obstruct solidarity.

Diversity is modestly affected by private ownership. By dividing people into owners and workers, private ownership creates a great difference between the two classes but also creates homogenizing pressure inside those classes.

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