Do you ever stop and take notice at how non-human animals will disregard our property lines and laws? Deer will jump our fences and eat the vegetables in our gardens. Birds will build nests on our roofs. And if you leave food out on your counter, it is highly likely that an army of ants will be devouring it by morning. Nature doesn’t seem to want to play along with our concepts of private property, perhaps because they are completely unnatural.
The Unnatural Economy
The economy currently run by humans is very unnatural. On a planet that offers natural abundance, human beings have implemented an economy that creates artificial scarcity. For example, it is considered perfectly normal for some humans to take far more than they could ever need and systematically deny access to others in need. The animal world is different. Lions don’t kill every gazelle. When their bellies are full, they will rest or play.
In Nature, competition exists when resources become scarce (and they are becoming increasingly scarce as humans begin to use up the rest of the natural world to fuel its ever-growing economy). When resources aren’t scarce, you see far more examples of cooperation. Human beings, on the other hand, will compete to be the “winner” or to be recognized as “the best” at something, even after all their physical needs are met and to the degree that they may become personally identified with their successes or failures.
Finally, in Nature’s economy, nothing is wasted. Once the lions have had their fill on the gazelle carcass, the vultures have their turn, before the insects and microorganisms in the soil reclaim whatever is left. But our economy based on ownership of personal property creates a system where companies are incentivized to sell as much material product as possible without care if it ultimately winds up in a landfill or some poor animal’s stomach.
Nature Doesn’t Believe In Private Property
Perhaps the most important discrepancy between the way human beings and Nature organize their economies is in the concept of private property. While a bear may lay claim to a particular area of land while he is inhabiting it, they do not lay claim to various pieces of land around the world and exclude access to other local bears. Humans, on the other hand, have littered the countryside with “No Trespassing” signs, excluding everyone from accessing the planet on which they were born.
When you put it that way, private property seems criminal, doesn’t it? What right does anyone have to exclude people from accessing land they aren’t currently using themselves? It would be absurd to think that an animal should be denied access to the land that allows them to live. But isn’t a human being born into this world to parents with no property of their own being put in a similar situation? Shouldn’t the right to access the land be the same as the right to access the air to breathe and the water to drink?
I would love to debate anyone who would like to take the opposing side of that argument.
The issue is not whether we agree with this principle. The issue is what do we do about it. Surely, I am not going to advocate for simply abolishing all private property claims. To do that would send our system into utter chaos as private property would just amass to those best able to keep the peace at any cost. Human civilization has endured a fairly long period of this kind of system and it did not bring out the best in us.
Here is what I am proposing: In the global, capitalist economy we are creating, where private property is essential to the systems of production currently in place, money equals access. In most countries in this world, if you have no money, then you have no food, shelter, clothing, or health care. If you a billion dollars, then you have access to the everything the world has to offer. I believe that everyone, for no other reason than they have been born on this planet, deserves access to meet his or her needs.
The problem is all the land in the world is already owned by either a country or a private person. Since money equals access, everyone should be entitled (yes, entitled) to a share of value of the productive use of all the land. And this share could take the form of a guaranteed, universal basic income (UBI) – an amount of money given to every citizen every year simply for being alive. It is important to note that how we fund the UBI will make the difference on whether we continue to further class divisions or we are able to transform an unsustainable society based on private ownership to a much more sustainable society built on the principle of access.
Challenging Old Cultural Norms And Beliefs About Money
There are usually two reactions at this point. Some people, probably a minority, can see this logic all the way through. It makes perfect sense. Many others, however, begin to develop a case of cognitive dissonance. The idea of giving people money “for free” violates a number of cultural norms of capitalistic society. Money, after all, is supposed to be the “reward for hard work.”
For most of human history, this has been true. When the pilgrims were settling villages, they couldn’t afford to support people who were unwilling to work. There was enough work to go around. Everyone was needed. In 1790, it required 90 percent of the population of the United States to produce food to feed the 100 percent. Today, due to incredible advancements in productivity, it only requires two percent of the population to grow the food to feed the 100 percent.
But instead of sharing the decreasing burden of food production and working fewer hours, everyone else was forced to find some other way of creating a product or service to sell to the market. For a while, factories and massive state-sponsored construction projects were happy to soak up the excess labor supply. Today, we are on the cusp of further developments in technology that will dramatically increase productivity further by making most human labor obsolete. The only reason why this would ever be considered to be a bad thing is because people need the income that the jobs provide to survive. A UBI would ensure that as the economy continues to become more productive through automation, everyone will be able to live a decent and quality life, regardless of their ability or need to contribute.
There are still those who will use these traditional cultural norms and values around money to argue that society, as we know it, would cease to exist. But if you take careful look, you will probably notice that these folks are in positions of relative abundance compared to the average person. It is likely that they have sacrificed much and worked very hard to attain what they have. That is why how you fund the UBI is critical to its successful adoption. If thoughtfully constructed, it could also radically transform how society organizes itself towards a more ecological society. And isn’t that what we need more than anything?
Shouldn’t the right to access the land be the same as the right to access the air to breathe and the water to drink?
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