book review 'Property for People, not for Profit'

chris morton krjz at
Thu Jun 29 21:00:45 BST 2006

Ulrich Duchrow & Franz Hinkelammert: 'Property for People, not for 
Profit'. Zed books/CIIR 2004. £10

I think this is worth reading, if for no other reason, because it 
explains why people we think of as Loony Right or Robber Barons are 
called neo-Liberals.

This book, by a German 'new economist' and a theologian, clarifies a 
lot of issues and the first 4 chapters on the history of property and 
the law relating to it demonstrate that the problems of private 
property and its exploitation showed up within minutes of the idea 
being used. In biblical times and at the time of Plato and Aristotle, 
measures to keep it under control and periodically redress imbalance 
between rich and poor were seen as essential. Even in modern times the 
authors plead with the German people and churches to use the powers 
within their constitution to direct a proportion of private gain back 
into the public welfare services.

Where it all started to go really badly wrong is pinpointed to the 
writings of John Locke. I had previously seen the divide earlier, 
between Gerrard Winstanley's sense that people left to themselves would 
get on with life industriously and voluntarily and Hobbes' insistence 
that we are basically indolent and lawless and have to be governed. 
Beside Locke however, Hobbes seems pretty cuddly. A series of extracts 
from Locke shows how it became  not only moral and acceptable to strip 
the indigenous peoples of America, India etc of their land and culture, 
but also to use as much force as necessary to do so, then finally, 
charge any left alive for the costs of having done it. This tower of 
colonialist and capitalist theory is founded on the couple of twigs of 
reason that it is 'natural' for man to exploit his environment to 
better his life and anyone evidently failing to do so is thus being 
'un-natural' -  vermin to be removed so their betters can get on with 
the job.

We know where all this has led and the authors analyse the depradations 
of unbridled capitalism in some detail and to the point where even the 
apparent 'top dogs' risk making the earth uninhabitable and our species 
extinct. What is more chilling, they show the way that fundamentalist 
mis-users of the bible (I refuse to call them Christians) can regard 
even this as merely helping speed up the route to the last judgement. 
To find anything comparable, I have to go to the passages of Hitler 
where he understands that if the German people are not able to rise to 
what he regards as their calling, it would be appropriate for them to 
perish in the attempt.

Chapter 5, where the authors discuss the psychological mayhem that lies 
just beneath the physical mayhem unleashed by 9/11 is the weakest, but 
maybe it was untranslatable.

The way out of the dilemna suggested is a fair round-up of the positive 
thinking and agreements of the last decade that could bring the WTO etc 
back under the control of the UN, IF ALL the churches could get their 
act together and line up behind the more enlightened ones and spell out 
loud and clear that global capital is totally lacking in moral, ethical 
or religious validity to the governments of the world, especially the 
richer and more piratical ones. And we continue with our local efforts 
to work at the local level.

So what is new? Well, the bibliography is good and references are 
international. But, having spelt out that the  Loony Right, may not be 
capable of any reason at all, the prospects are not cheering.

The authors do not appear to have ambitions beyond regaining control of 
government and the associated correctives such as Tobin tax and 
targeting taxation to outlaw non-productive speculation. Even 
currencies that auto-devalue if not used is an idea thought 
impractical. Maybe that is realism. I would like to have seen mention 
of Participatory economics and other ways of ensuring money can't be 
hoarded. Without that most gains would be as short lived as debt relief 
with WTO strings attached. My pennyworth would be to use energy content 
for all accounting instead of money, with a changeover period of about 
20 years; then distribute available energy income equally. Less 
cheating is possible and control of energy use is the most urgent need 
beyond immediate relief of pandemics and starvation.

I return to the 30s, when people thought that Hitler could not carry 
out his intentions because Germany was by nature a cultured nation, so 
did little or nothing until too late. Somehow the middle 80% of the UK 
population dosed up with the 'soma' of football, alcohol and enough 
goodies to not wish the boat rocked, have to be woken. Not least from 
the illusion that a USA/UK coalition cannot bring a new armaggedon, 
because we have such a long and noble history of democracy and fair 
play. Some of the realities of history and democracy have been spelt 
out by Mark Curtis and George Monbiot. This book traces the reasons for 
this anomaly between 'as taught' and 'as happened' to the stinking rot 
at the core of the self-styled 'enlightenment'. If Fallujah was not a 
re-enactment of Guernica, I will confess to being a born-again 
pessimist and shut up.

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