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To Own or Be Owned

Abimael Guzman Sendero

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[Leer en español]

In a maximum-security prison near Lima, Peru, an 86-year-old fanatic against private property spends his twilight days locked away in public property. His name is Abimael Guzmán, founder of the Peruvian communist group, Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path).

Before his capture in 1992, Guzmán and his comrades were responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Peruvians. You can read more about his trail of horrors here. He is all these things: Professor. Terrorist. Evil. Murderer. Idiot.

Communists like Guzmán are famously in favor of abolishing private property because they don’t believe individuals should “own” things. Karl Marx himself declared that communism could be summarized in a single phrase, the abolition of private property. Intelligent people know that this is lunacy.

The fact is, it is neither possible nor desirable to construct a society in which people or the material things they create are not “owned.” Either you will “own” yourself or somebody else will own you. As far as material things are concerned, somebody must own them too. Those “somebodies” will either be those who created them, received them as a gift, or traded freely for them, or they will be those who take them by force. There is no middle ground, no “third way” in which ownership is somehow avoided.

Even the prison where Guzmán languishes is “owned.” It is the property of the Peruvian state. Some may naively claim that this means the prison is the property of “the people” but that’s a collectivist abstraction that means little. Who are “the people” who get to actually use the prison? A handful of state officials and the prisoners like Guzmán, who would rather be somewhere else that’s private and offers privacy.

Ownership of physical things is both a virtue and a necessity. What is yours, you tend to take care of. If it belongs to someone else, you have little incentive to care for it. If it belongs to “everyone” then you have every incentive to use it and abuse it and little reason to conserve it. Thousands of years of history reinforces this essential principle: the more the government owns and thereby controls, the less free and productive the people are.

Ownership is nothing less than the right to shape, use, and dispose. Even if you have legal title to something, you wouldn’t think you really owned it if the government told you what you could do with it, how, and when; in that instance, the government would be the de facto owner.

For thoroughly trashing the resources of any society, no more surefire prescription exists than to take them from those to whom they belong (the rightful owners) and give them to those who are convinced in the fantasyland of their own minds that they have a better idea of what to do with them. Socialist regimes, which take from some and give to others at the point of a gun, have their self-serving schemes for how to squander what they steal, but they display an infantile ignorance of how to create wealth in the first place.

In fact, neither socialists nor socialism has any coherent, thoughtful theory of wealth creation. They seem to think that wealth (specifically, goods and services) materializes out of nowhere and then waits for them to seize and distribute it. That’s infantile. It’s the way three-year-olds think until they grow up and learn that for wealth to come into being, somebody has to work, create, take risks, invent, invest, innovate, employ and build. You can’t expropriate it until somebody far smarter than you constructs it first.

Much has been made in the past about alleged differences between fascism and communism. On the question of ownership, the difference is a cosmetic one that ultimately matters little to the ordinary citizen. Under either system, real ownership is in the hands of the state, regardless of what any scrap of legal title paper says.

Fascism and communism are not opposites. Each is a variety of socialism. They are both ideologies of the Left. Both glorify the state for their own twisted purposes, and both hate private property because they want to be in charge of it instead of the individuals who create it.

It’s either you or somebody else. Who should own your retirement savings—you or the government? Who should decide where your child goes to school—you the parent or a handful of other parents different from you only because they work for the government? Who should own your house or business—you who created or purchased it, or some windbag politician who claims the state has some fraudulent, fabricated right to it in the name of “the people”?

Abimael Guzmán wasted his own life—and worse, he took the lives of many others—because he convinced himself that property should belong to the State. How stupid! What a moron! Now he lives his last days in a tiny corner of state-owned property. It may be a far more instructive experience for him than he ever provided the students he once indoctrinated at the university in Ayacucho.

Own or be owned. It’s one or the other. Take your pick. Don’t be an idiot like Guzmán.

Lawrence writes a weekly op-ed for El American. He is President Emeritus of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) in Atlanta, Georgia; and is the author of “Real heroes: inspiring true stories of courage, character, and conviction“ and the best-seller “Was Jesus a Socialist?“ //
Lawrence escribe un artículo de opinión semanal para El American. Es presidente emérito de la Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) en Atlanta, Georgia; y es el autor de “Héroes reales: inspirando historias reales de coraje, carácter y convicción” y el best-seller “¿Fue Jesús un socialista?”

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