Personal vs. Private Property: Don’t Get Tripped Up By This Fallacy

By Steven Clyde

The modern day Marxist is quite the odd figure. Depending on the day you talk to them, they are adhering to another random school of thought within the socialist/communist movement whether it be anarcho-communism[1], anarcho-syndicalism[2], Maoism[3], Leninism[4], Trotskyism[5], etc. Yet no matter how you try and debate with them, they always want to try and trip you up on one thing: property.

The idea that revolves around pretty much all these ideologies is that there is first to be made a distinction between types of property: that is personal property (consumer goods) and private property (producer goods). Second, there is an everlasting principle ingrained that private property, as a “capitalistic norm” they will say, is theft. Often times, they will go on to say that private property is “violence and murder” as well, really putting on the pedestal with your beliefs.

Personal Property

There are several attempts to justify this argument, one being that capitalists exploit the people they hire because they extract the surplus value[6] (the full value of their productivity in any given setting minus their contracted wage) and thus are guilty of theft on that account. When you bring up the point of “well didn’t they agree to the wages determined in the contract?” their response is often something along the lines of “people are forced to go out and get jobs or starve so none of it is voluntary.”

Arguments like this are trying to persuade you on the notion that its okay to receive whats available from others sacrifices, and that you should resent anyone who feels like you as a person should have to go out and make sacrifices just because other people do. This all tends to cultivate into a self-satisfying diatribe towards the idea that being free to make your own contracts in a free society, would be worse than if society came together to own all the means of production.

“Society”, is but of whom? Are all the people in the building I’m in a small society if we claim? What about all the people on my block? So is it really to say, that if there is a printer that adds productive value to someone in the world, that the printer is now owned by the lot of the 7.28 billion of us? But if everybody owned the printer, what would be the incentive to create a new printer? Would society then be viewed as just continents? But what about mere states? Towns? Society is subjective, and thus we must focus on the individual themselves in any situation to make rational observations.

The individual will take a broom and get productive value out of it, yet no one goes around claiming everyone has the right to other people’s brooms.

Once something is personal property as they claim, namely it’s acquired through self-sacrifice, it cannot then be transformed into another term (called private property) without changing physical form. If it’s simply something that helps another man acquire an end, whether that end is to gain more than they put at risk or to accomplish something like a small task, then what right does “society” have to deprive the individual who simply used their mind and the resources around them to make a change.

But therein lies the true problem: incentives. This is one of the most fundamental differences in how the anarcho-capitalist and the anarcho-communist view how people act; one believes that people act purposefully and use our minds to transform resources to attain certain ends and do so only with knowing that they can attain those ends[7], while the other believes that people would have these same incentives so long as they weren’t simply bound by another capitalist and exploited.[8]

There are lots of problems with the idea that all value comes from labor, as they try to presume. Carl Menger was the first to point out in his 1871 book “Principles of Economics” that a diamond is worth no more to consumers whether it was found on the ground or mined for years and then found: value is subjective. [9] Therefore, it’s a fallacy to assume that employers “exploit” their employees by stealing their labor, because the product produced might end up fetching no value on the marketplace, yet the employer has agreed to pay you in the present in hopes of making a profit in the future. “Surplus value”, if we must agree to as the term of your revenue minus your costs, is simply the result of market forces telling you that you’re allocating resources the correct way. If there was no “surplus value”, surely the worker wouldn’t have a job and would be worse off.

So what’s this have to do with the definition of property? Well, they are essentially arguing that “private property” as they say is illegitimate property because it enslaves the backs of the “working class” and doesn’t provide for societies basic needs. This is the opposite from the truth. The natural state of humanity IS absolute poverty; yet to paraphrase Thomas Sowell humans thousands of years ago must have been the richest people in the history of civilizations because they had access to all the natural resources that had never been used. You can see Sowell’s point though: wealth is something that had to be created in the first place, and the property each of us owns individually right now has been through the coordination of market forces in allocating resources. It’s only in the past few hundred years that the average person has the means of productivity at their disposal to provide not only just their basic needs, but beyond that to invest and transform different resources in other ways. That’s the only way wealth is created and an economy grows. Their big conniption is that right now nearly half the world lives in poverty, yet empirical evidence shows otherwise: even in the last 30 years we’ve cut extreme poverty (defined as living off less than $1 a day) in nearly half through technological advances and the rise in the capability of the average person to create wealth for themselves and their families. [10]

Personal Property
Private Property

Private property and personal property are the same thing, and without private property rights in the first place you can’t define what is theft and what isn’t, and it will most likely overlook the most important property right we each have which is the right to our bodies (and our minds). It’s only proper to distinguish between types of private property: consumer goods and producer goods. We have the best chance at helping the most poor and the most vulnerable in the world by giving them economic freedom in their pursuit to achieve goals and shape their lives, and just because a person takes their property and creates more value than once was before an action occurred, doesn’t make them a thief by any reasonable definition. Depriving someone of their property because you’re upset they have created value however, is theft.


[1] a theory of anarchism which advocates the abolition of the statecapitalismwage labour, and private property (while retaining respect for personal property),and in favor of common ownership of the means of production, direct democracy, and a horizontal network of voluntary associations and workers’ councils with production and consumption based on the guiding principle: “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need

[2]theory of anarchism which views revolutionary industrial unionism or syndicalism as a method for workers in capitalist society to gain control of an economy and, with that control, influence broader society. Syndicalists consider their economic theories a strategy for facilitating worker self-activity and as an alternative co-operative economic system with democratic values and production centered on meeting human needs.

[3]  a political theory derived from the teachings of the Chinese political leader Mao Zedong (1893–1976). Its followers are known as Maoists. Developed from the 1950s until the Deng Xiaoping reforms in the 1970s, it was widely applied as the guiding political and military ideology of the Communist Party of China (CPC), and as theory guiding revolutionary movements around the world. The essential difference between Maoism and other forms of Marxism is that Mao claimed that peasants should be the essential revolutionary class in China, because, contrary to their industrial working “comrades”, they were more suited to establishing a successful revolution and socialist society in China.

[4] is the political theory for the democratic organization of a revolutionary vanguard party and the achievement of a dictatorship of the proletariat, as political prelude to the establishment of socialism

[5]  the theory of Marxism as advocated by Leon Trotsky. Trotsky identified himself as an orthodox Marxist and BolshevikLeninist, and supported founding a vanguard party of the proletariatproletarian internationalism, and a dictatorship of the proletariat based on working class self-emancipation and mass democracy. Trotskyists are critical of Stalinism (also called Marxism-Leninism), as they oppose Stalin’s theory of Socialism in One Country in favor of Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution. Trotskyists also criticize the bureaucracy that developed in the Soviet Union under Stalin.

[6] https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1863/theories-surplus-value/

[7] https://mises.org/library/human-action-purposeful-action

[8] https://socialistworker.org/2011/09/28/what-do-we-mean-exploitation

[9] https://mises.org/library/carl-menger-nature-value

[10] http://pubdocs.worldbank.org/en/109701443800596288/PRN03Oct2015TwinGoals.pdf

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