Bad ideas never die. They never even fade away. They just lurk, waiting for the right moment to rear their ugly heads.
On that note, The Nation has come up with a brilliant new idea: abolishing private property.
This brand new, not at all tried-and-failed idea, pushed by Jesse Myerson, suggests that we “get rid of private housing.” He writes:
Plenty of time and effort have lately gone into analyzing a host of related crises—homelessness, unaffordable urban real estate, devastating gentrification, and a housing bubble whose burst landed us in the Great Recession. But the explanations tend to be incomplete, the attributions shortsighted, and the policies rearguard….The true culprit is so deeply embedded in American notions of wealth, rights, and property that we cannot see it for the terrible economy policy it is: private housing. Real estate as a store of private wealth is the rotten tree that sprouts these diseased branches, and the solution is to quit pruning twigs and chop the sucker down.
Hey, if destruction of all landholding didn’t destroy the Soviet Union and preclude the development of dozens of hunter-gatherer civilizations, why wouldn’t it work now?
Myerson says that land is owned by the government – a unique argument given that ownership of land predates organized government, and that American government was organized as an attempt to protect private property rights. He states:
Land, save the bits beneath one’s feet, can’t be “possessed,” as a phone or a shirt can…The entire apparatus by which housing is privately “owned” is created by the government’s decisions to subsidize or protect certain interests.
There is truth to the notion that the government “declares” certain property open for ownership. But in the absence of that declaration, people would still claim and settle property, as they have for thousands of years, since domestication of animals became a common human practice. That’s why adverse possession – the notion of claiming property through consistent use – is a part of American law.
Myerson continues by blaming private property ownership for segregation (mandated by law, of course), financial crises, and vacant lots held for years. These are all idiotic notions: segregation was mandated by government, financial crises have been largely caused by government intervention in the markets, and vacant land is worth less than land built up in populated areas unless government skews the market.
Myerson ends up proclaiming the virtues of public housing, a massive failure in the United States, by promoting Viennese housing from the 1920s. He concludes:
Private land policies are as evil today as they were almost 4 centuries ago when the Pilgrims near Bridgewater, Massachusetts, arrested Wampanoag people for hunting on a tract of land after the Pilgrims had “purchased” it. “What is this you call property?” the sachem, Massasoit, argued on that occasion. “It cannot be the earth, for the land is our Mother…. everything on it belongs to everybody and is for the use of all. How then can one man say it belongs to him only?” There was no satisfactory retort then, and there isn’t one now.
It turns out that those horrible land policies, which encouraged ownership and work, created the greatest civilization in the history of humanity, alleviating poverty for literally billions of human beings. The land ownership policies of the Wampanoag created nothing of note for thousands of years. Actually, when the original Pilgrims tried communistic property ownership, they almost starved to death. It’s also worth noting that the tragedy of the commons exists on the commons. It doesn’t exist in private parks.
But it’s evil to own land.
Why not extend that logic to all private ownership? Who says you can own animals? Or food? Or anything? Why not own everything in common, or turn it all over to government?
Because then you end up with Venezuela, where inflation is 200 percent, all in the name of the public good.
What idiocy. But don’t worry. No matter how bad the idea, it will always come back. Remember the Wampanoag.