With the pandemic, the time has come to put limits on private property

Opinion: With the pandemic, the time has come to put limits on private property

Pressenza

(Source: Guillermo Sullings*, Pressenza; translation: Ilaria Cuppone/Novena)

Today the world is fighting a pandemic. Sooner or later the health issue will be resolved, but the economic consequences will be devastating, perhaps worse than those of the collapse of 1929, if a global recovery plan and a global redistributive shock treatment are not implemented. But such a plan cannot in any way be financed by further indebtedness, which would affect the population even more.

Instead, it should be financed by concentrating capital and putting it at the service of humanity (and not against it as has happened so far).

The time has come to put a limit on the ad infinitum sacralization of private property, forcing the concentrated wealth to channel itself towards fair and sustainable development.

Any ideological basis for a possible correlation between private property, individual merit and social stability can be reasonable within certain limits.

But when few people in the world accumulate more wealth than half of humanity (and the trend indicates an acceleration of the phenomenon), those foundations collapse, because there is no personal merit that justifies these differences, because no rights acquired by a few can legitimize the marginalization of millions of people and because there will be no social stability with such inequalities.

For some time the world has been questioning the monstrous level of inequality, but in the face of the current pandemic and its economic consequences, it is urgent to implement drastic policies in this sense.

In other historical moments, the irrationality of world wars has forced governments to create war and post-war economies, adapting production structures to put them at the service of emergencies.

Now the time has come for a great global convergence to support radical economic measures, indispensable in this emergency of struggle against inequalities, marginalization, dehumanization and environmental disaster.

Today the financial and production systems should be oriented towards a reconversion of the global economic system which has the aim of getting people out of poverty, of guaranteeing fundamental human rights and of changing the productive model in terms of fair and sustainable consumption from the environmental point of view.

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It will not be enough to impose higher taxes on those who concentrate wealth, because even if this measure can finance emergency programs, it will not structurally change the distributive and productive model. It will be necessary to force arms factories to become factories of vehicles, machinery and other supplies.

Banks and investment funds will have to stop speculating, to devote themselves to financing production and to support the consumption of the necessary goods and services, within the framework of environmental protection policies.

We will have to force the productive reinvestment of the profits of large companies, putting an end to the capital flight towards tax havens and speculation.

A criterion for limiting private property should be that the degree of freedom to dispose of capital and its income is inversely proportional to its size.

The more capital there is, the greater the social responsibility to allocate it to the progress of society as a whole and not only to the profitability of a few.

If someone has a small or medium-sized business, it will be up to them to see the best way to invest their profits within certain legal, tax and environmental frameworks. But if someone owns large companies or banks, their influence on the economy is greater, so their decisions should be limited to a narrower framework where the common good is the priority.

And of course we are not talking about symbolic donations to protect a corporate image, nor about recommendations or suggestions from the public to the private sector.

We are talking about the fact that States with a real Humanist Sensitivity, emerging from a new Social Contract, should actively intervene to direct large capital investments towards areas of common interest through fiscal policies that make prohibitive other investments of funds not coinciding with the interest of the majority prohibitive.

Some will say that such public intervention in the private sphere is a violation of property rights. We answer that the human rights of the majority have priority over the ownership rights of concentrated capital.

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Others, on the contrary, could argue that instead of redirecting investments, it would be “more revolutionary” to expropriate everything and distribute it at once. It will be necessary to explain to them that, if an apple tree is cut down to distribute the apples, soon there will be no more fruit.

In any case, it is good to remember this part of the Humanist Document:

“Earnings not set aside for reinvestment in the enterprise, not used for expansion or diversification, are increasingly diverted into financial speculation, as are profits not used to create new sources of work.

“The struggle of working people must therefore be to require maximum productive return from capital. But this cannot happen unless management and directorships are cooperatively shared. How else will it be possible to avoid massive layoffs, business closures, and even the loss of entire industries? For the greatest harm comes from under-investment, fraudulent bankruptcies, forced acquisition of debt, and capital flight—not from profits realized through increased productivity. And if some persist in calling for workers to take possession of the means of production following nineteenth-century teachings, they will have to seriously consider the recent failures of real socialism”.

Of course, in the face of the current health and economic emergency, an increase in health care funds and a basic income for every human being should be guaranteed now, so that no one falls into poverty.

This will require heavy taxes on big fortunes nationwide; but since there is a great inequality of resources between the various countries, the UN and international credit agencies should create an international fund to meet these needs in the most disadvantaged countries.

It will be sufficient that a drastic and simultaneous reduction of the military spending of the powers is agreed to within the UN, in order to free up sufficient resources, and it will be sufficient that the international credit agencies, instead of looking after the interests of the financiers, support the indebted countries in overcoming the crisis.

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But in the immediate emergency, the image of a new world must be shaped through profound structural changes, because there is no more time for further postponements and in the economic field this certainly implies setting limits on private property and the dictatorship of the markets that led us to prey on humans and their habitats.

As we have always said, all these decisions are far from the will of most rulers, therefore all the people will need to push in the right direction.

And perhaps today more than ever, there is an opportunity for the various people of the world to tune in and converge in building a common future.

*Economist, humanist and author of several books and monographs, notably Mixed Economics and At the Crossroads of Humanity’s Future: the steps towards the Universal Human Nation.

More on Novena on the economic fallout of the pandemic:

Virtues for the pandemic recovery: what do we mean by “compassion”, “solidarity” and “justice”?

Affluence is killing the planet, and “greening consumption” and “sustainable growth” are not enough to save it

Bishop of Derry warns of post-pandemic “poverty” of hope, education and economic confidence

Portuguese Bishops call for “globalisation of solidarity” to meet pandemic crisis “unparalleled in recent history”

Vatican redoubles efforts for post-pandemic future “that completely integrates the human being in its dignity”

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