#81 Private Property

The Christian Economist

Private property is Christian because it was God-ordained in the “Don’t steal” commandment.  Private property produces better economic outcomes because we protect what we own.

Elizabeth Warren wants to use the private property of her name and the private property of her Senate seat to claim private property of a bill she has written, in which says drug companies should not have private property.  The article in the Wall Street Journal is titled “Elizabeth Warren Tells the Truth,” and the subtitle is “She admits the patent vaccine waiver is about stealing all Pharma IP.”

When someone uses their power to take from others what they have, you think immediately of the phrase famously spoken by Lord Acton, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Speaking of what Elizabeth Warren owns: She claimed to own Cherokee ancestry, a false claim that she used to steal a place at Harvard…..Has she paid reparations for what she stole from a person who rightfully deserved that spot?  Reparations are a separate issue that I discuss in podcast #44.  

Don’t Steal

This assumes there is private property.  If everything is commonly owned, you couldn’t steal, and the eighth commandment would not exist.

In pure socialism, there would be no need for money.  A society who follows the dicta, “From each according to his ability, and to each according to his need,” would have all their needs supplied.  The Dallas Cowboys would be owned by the government.  And a government official would decide whether Dave Arnott and his grandkids need a ticket.  I have seven grandkids, so they would determine which of them is more deserving of an afternoon at the Cowboys game with their grandpa.  Hold it, you’re not assuming Grandpa could make that decision better than a government official?  The Socialist assumption is that government makes better decisions than the market.  So, yes, Socialists, like Elizabeth Warren, assume she can choose between my grandkids better than I can.

In our book Biblical Economic Policy, Sergiy Saydometov and I claim we have found Ten Biblical Commandments of Economics.  We “stole” the “don’t steal” commandment from Moses as one of our Ten.

Karl Marx

Karl Marx understood the fallen nature, so I give him credit for that.  But he did not understand economics very well.  He assigned names to two groups: The factory owners were bourgeois, and the workers were the proletariat.  He was supported by the bourgeois Friedrich Engels while he wrote Das Kapital.  He said it would take him five weeks, but it took him 20 years.  So, getting your work done on time was not very important to Karl Marx.  When Engels and Mark wrote The Communist Manifesto in 1848, workers were being taken advantage of by factory owners.  But by the time they got Das Kapital written in 1867, the lives of European workers were much improved.  That’s because, as they used more machines, productivity of labor increased.  Marx assumed that the factory owners would keep this extra profit and continue to pay their workers slave wages.  But Marx didn’t understand the power of competition, which forces the factory owners to pay their workers higher wages to keep them.  And, competition forced them to lower prices to consumers, so factory workers got higher pay and cheaper goods as the 19th century progressed.  I unpack some of the benefits of competition in podcasts # 56 Thankful for Capitalism, #33 Ending Discrimination, and #7 Competition and the Fallen Nature.  So by the end of the 19th century, being a factory worker was a pretty good gig.  

Side story: My brother and his wife and Ginger and I rented an apartment overlooking the Eiffel Tower in Paris a couple years ago for our week-long visit there.  My brother commented, “It’s nice to be rich,” and I responded, “But all four of us are what Marx would call wage slaves.  How did we get so rich, while being members of the proletariat?”  Good question.  

Marx was wrong.  The book in which he called for the end of private property has been copyrighted.  Think about it. 

Government Plans

Currently, the US Federal Government owns 12% of the property in the US.  A plan proposed by the Biden administration titled “Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful” would increase that to 30% by 2030 and 50% by 2050.  They claim they are trying to protect the planet from climate change.  The administration is making a very bad judgment here.  

Sergiy Saydometov and I explain more about government’s bad judgements in chapter 4 of our new book Biblical Economic Policy.  

The best way to protest something is to put it in private hands.  I have time for only two examples today.  

When Marx was writing Das Kapital from 1847-67, Longhorns were plentiful and free in the Southwestern region of the US, including Texas.  All you had to do was round them up and drive them to the nearest railhead and collect the money.  Lots of people did.  Common ownership almost led to the end of the Longhorn breed.  In 1927 the Texas longhorn was saved from probable extinction by Will C. Barnes and some of his friends, when they collected a small herd of 27 breeding stock in South Texas for the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma.  Oh, I need to point out, that this was a private-public partnership.  The government made some contribution to this effort because Barnes was in the fledgling US Forest Service when he rounded up this herd of 27. 

Buffalo faced the same disaster.  They were free, and killing buffalo for their skins was a profitable business in the mid 1800’s, because the cost of production was almost zero.  A few bullets and your time was all that was necessary.  Probably 50 million once roamed the great plains.   Common ownership caused them to dwindle to only 1000 and every one of the surviving buffalo today are descendants of those.   “Scotty” Philip was a Scottish-born American rancher and politician in South Dakota, and he is remembered as the “Man who saved the Buffalo” due to his role in helping to preserve the American Bison from extinction.  Interestingly, they were driven to the same Wichita Mountains wildlife refuge in Oklahoma, as the longhorns were.  Oh, Teddy Roosevelt was also involved, but this was as a private citizen, before he became President of the United States. 

Common ownership does not protect scarce goods.  Private ownership does. 

Have you ever seen graffiti on a privately owned house or car?  When I was taking skiing lessons with my son many years ago, the ski instructor was trying to get me to ski harder, “Don’t be gentle on a rental,” he yelled at me.  I didn’t own the skis, why should I care?  

When I used to be a salesman there was a common phrase, “Nobody ever washed a rental car.”  Why would you care for something you didn’t own?

This is simple human behavior: We care for what we own, we destroy what we don’t own. 

All Things in Common

I bought a copy of the book titled, All Things in Common. Think about it.  If all things were in common, why would I have to buy the book.  But, actually the author, Roman Montero, knows more about the first century church than I do, and he makes a good point.  Sharing things in common was more of a sociocultural mandate than a legal mandate.  It was not forced socialism, it was voluntary.  This idea is more fully developed in podcast #12 All Things in Common.

Antitrust

This subject demands more time than I have today, so I will mention it briefly and unpack it in more detail in a future podcast.

Just after the turn of the century, “Robber Barons” like Andrew Carnegie in Steel and John Rockefeller in Oil, and Cornelius Vanderbilt in railroads, monopolized and controlled industries.  This brought about the Sherman Anti-trust act of 1890 and the Clayton Act of 1914.  

Sub-note about John Rockefeller.  He gave so much money to a black women’s college that they named it after his wife.  John Rockefeller’s wife’s maiden name was Spelman.  Think about it: How many rich white guys in 1884 supported black education?  How many supported women’s higher education.  Having been through those two screens, how many joined John Rockefeller in supporting black women’s education?  He was 100 years ahead of his time.  There’s actually a very good video about the generosity of John Rockefeller on PragerU.  The author is Burt Folsom of Hillsdale College. 

Ok, so back to my point.  If people were not fallen, you would allow them to have monopolies.  The only reason we have anti-trust legislation is that we don’t trust people, because they are fallen.  Actually, I’m going to close this podcast with two statements that are going to shock my conservative Christian audience.  1.  Elizabeth Warren is correct in wanting to break up large companies.  It’s an indication of her understanding of the fallen nature.  And 2. “The Government should do more to enforce Anti-trust violations.”  Yes, the Christian Economist said, “The government should do more.”  More on that in another podcast. 

A Christian Economist is driven by two forces: Christianity is concerned about the means, and Economics is concerned about the ends.  Public Property fails on both, and Private Property wins on both.