Our current cultural clash, the conflict between the progressives (see: moving forward) who see our society as so fractured it has to be torn down en-toto (in favor of… wait for it… a century-old idea that killed a hundred million people) and the incrementalists (see: everyone else) who see that same society as a good-but-imperfect one that needs incremental adjustments, tells today’s tale.

That tell-tale, a demarcator that easily and accurately sorts the sides, is so basic as to be part of the nation’s bedrock principles.

It is, in a word, “property.” Not (solely) real estate, improved or unimproved, or even “stuff I own,” but all-encompassing, as in “the fruits of one’s labor.”

For it is fundamental to the premise of a society born of liberty that each of us not only has inalienable individual rights, but that we also have the right to control that which we produce via the sweat of our brow and the firing of our neurons.

In a free society, we trade our labor, whether it be physical or mental, for others’. To simplify and accelerate this free exchange, we use various forms of wealth storage as a proxy. That includes anything that someone else is willing to accept in exchange for his labor, either directly or by proxy (aka “money”). These are the fruits of our labor, and we own them.

In a collectivist society, on the other hand, where individual liberty is subordinated to the State (or obviated entirely), the fruits of our labor do not belong to us. In purported exchange for “shared ownership,” we don’t get to own what we produce. Your labor belongs to the State.

Some, myself included, call the latter slavery and find it abhorrent. After all, what’s the difference if what you produce belongs to another person (without compensation) or to the government? Others may reply that there’s a difference, that in the collective, the government provides, and that you “own” a share of the aggregate fruits of everyone’s labor (I won’t belabor the rebuttal that the slaveowner housed, fed, and clothed his slaves).

Still others, and this is where we find ourselves today, argue that the government provides in exchange for owning some of the fruits of your labor. They call that taxation, and speak of a social contract.

The problem herein lies in what it does with its share. It can be argued, and indeed I have argued on this blog in the past, that “fee-for-service” taxation can be justified to some degree. The services a government (federal, county, state, local, etc) provides to its citizens, whether it be national defense, local policing, courts, roads, sanitary services, etc, cost money (i.e. people are paid for the fruits of their labor). We can and should debate the mechanism of paying for those services, but that they be paid for is hard to dispute. However, the simple taking of money from one person to give to another does not meet any fee-for-service criterion, and no amount of hand-waving about benefits to society overall will change that. Redistributive taxation is a declaration that the State owns a portion of you, and can do with it as it desires.

The mindset that this redistributive taxation creates is corrosive. Once you clear the hurdle of justifying taking property from some simply to give to others, you break the premise of ownership itself.

California codified this reduced respect for others’ property with Proposition 47, and now we witness businesses closing because shoplifting has become so rampant.

President Biden is calling for massive estate tax increases, effectively declaring that a lifetime of success is for the benefit of the state, not your family. While it’s being pitched as only affecting “the wealthy” (it’s always on someone else, not you – more on this in a moment), the definition of “the wealthy” is part of the con.

Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, not to be outdone by Biden, want to tax people’s assets. Not their income, but rather what’s left in people’s possession after they’ve paid the tax man. Build a body of wealth, sorry, it’s not yours to keep, even before you die.

Looting is excused, with justifications ranging from “understandable anger” to pled-poverty. Ditto for violence against property.

Gun-control advocates have taken to arguing against armed self-defense against home invaders, because they might “simply be hungry.”

And, all around us, we see people declaring that “no one should be a billionaire,” as if reaching a certain point of success in life obviates our natural right to own that which we create.

This is part of the fabricated issue that is called the “wealth gap,” i.e. the idea that some having a lot more than others is not only a source of problems, but a problem eo ipso. Its proponents act as if this is self-evident, with no consideration to either the concept of ownership or to the various legitimate factors that create this condition. Some limit it to “extreme” wealth, as if there’s some line beyond which you no longer deserve to keep the fruits of your labor.

Those who assert that line are never on the “wrong” side of it, it seems. Even the mega-billionaires who publicly argue for higher taxes never seem to pay any more than they are obligated to by law, and always seem to load their wealth into charitable foundations rather than simply allow the government to take it upon their death. Therein lies the truth of all this: in politics, it’s always about Other People’s Money (OPM).

Envy, one of the Seven Deadly Sins, is at the core of all this, and it is a powerful motivator. Channeled well, it can drive one to personal success: you want the lifestyle, or success, or fame, or wealth that someone else has, so you set out to make it for yourself. Channeled otherwise, however, it can motivate covetousness, a behavior prohibited by the Tenth Commandment, but nevertheless rampant in societies.

To covet is not to seek to achieve what others have achieved, it is to seek to take what others have created. It is abetted by the lie of a zero-sum world, where one can gain only by depriving someone else, a lie peddled by some of the biggest names in politics and culture (Obama, for one, appeared to be enamored of this zero-sum thinking). We see this in arguments high and low, including the by-now standard plaint in favor of raising the minimum wage, “if employers would only pay their workers what they are worth…”

News flash: your labor is only ‘worth’ what someone else is willing to pay, and if the government says that someone else has to pay more, he can always opt not to hire you. The true minimum wage is always zero.

The neo-Marxists at the head of some of our most prominent cultural movements (looking at you, BLM-the-organization) are routinely showing us that they exist on the destructive side of the on-going property war. These movements are teaching generations that property rights don’t matter, that stealing is OK if you can concoct a reasonable-sounding bucket of bullshit (with the reasonableness test degrading almost daily). When we don’t stand against this trend, when we tacitly accept or openly compromise with the message of endless avarice, we assist in this erosion.

Where property rights fall, individual rights will fall soon thereafter. When the fruit of your labor is no longer yours, it’s inevitable that the State will infringe upon your personal liberties, including speech, religious beliefs, privacy, self-defense, association, and assembly. It has already started. If you figure “they’re only going to steal from the super-rich – they won’t take from me (and I might even come out ahead)” as your calculus for indifference, you’re setting yourself up, and when they get to you, it’ll be too late to complain.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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