Capitalism is often defined as an economic system characterized by private ownership for the purpose of profit. But private property is a myth. Yet we still have capitalism, or at least we seem to have it. So what is capitalism really, and how can it function without private property?While ownership of private property does not really exist, guardianship of personal property does. When addressing the difference between private property and personal property, I mentioned an example involving rent. Even with a differentiation between ownership and guardianship, I was still able to express a way to obtain a profit from a house. Specifically, even though I lost possession of the house, as soon as the tenant moved in, I constructed an agreement with the tenant to provide a certain amount of payment, in return for relinquishing possession of the house, and to return possession to me, after a certain amount of time.
Any other business can work in this way. It does not matter that I relinquish possession of the assets that I use to invest. I have made arrangements, implicit or explicit, that I will retain primary guardianship of the assets that I have invested, and obtain primary guardianship of the assets that are created because of those investments. Therefore capitalism can be defined as follows:
An economic system in which primary guardianship is maintained by a group of people, and primary guardianship of excesses of production is given to those same people.
So neither profit, nor capitalism, are inconsistent with the rejection of private property. It’s just a matter of maintaining agreements with those to whom we have transferred possession, so that we maintain primary guardianship of the investment as well as the profits.
Many of the arguments used by anarchists to reject capitalism are actually arguments for the validity of capitalism. Anarchists who oppose capitalism protest the sale of labor. It is argued that the sale of labor is the sale of oneself. But given that private property is a myth, that what you create is not owned, but only possessed and that the only thing that you truly own is yourself, you are free to agree to work for someone else, to relinquish possession of that which you created, in return for salary and use of any material that the proprietor has provided, because you own yourself. It is your absolute right to allow such an agreement, so long as you can terminate that agreement in the future. This is not slavery. It is just the opposite. You could only be forbidden to make such an arrangement if your body were not your property.
- Rights, an Update
- The Myth of Private Property
- The Power of “Social Capitalism”