Problem

Private ownership

Other Names:
Abuse of individual property
Individualistic disposition of productive property
Static land ownership
Monopolized land ownership
Unfair distribution of land ownership
Individualistic spirit of economic life
Nature:
The ownership, use and sale of productive property has become a right of the individual rather than a privilege. The context out of which decisions are made about ownership has been reduced to a tension between individual or corporate self-interest and benevolent good will, both of which are often two sides of self satisfaction. Concern for the larger economy, global ecology or other transnational issues is a function of other pressures, like political awareness of the environment.
Incidence:
18 land owners own 75 percent of the state of Maine, USA. These landowners pay only 0.2 percent of the state's taxes.
Claim:
1. In defending the principle of private ownership the Church is striving after an important ethico-social end. She does not intend merely to uphold the present condition of things as if it were an expression of the divine Will, or to protect on principle the rich and plutocrats against the poor and indigent.... The Church aims rather at securing that the institution of private property be such as it should be according to the plan of the divine Wisdom and the dispositions of Nature." Hence private ownership must be considered as a guarantee of the essential freedom of the individual, and at the same time an indispensable element in a true social order. We should notice at this point that the right of private ownership is clearly sanctioned by the Gospel. Yet at the same time, the divine Master frequently extends to the rich the insistent invitation to convert their material goods into spiritual ones by conferring them on the poor (Papal Encyclical, Mater et Magistra, 15 May 1961).

2. The ultimate consequences of the individualist spirit in economic life are those which you yourselves see and deplore: Free competition has destroyed itself; economic dictatorship has supplanted the free market; unbridled ambition for power has likewise succeeded greed for gain; all economic life has become tragically hard, inexorable, and cruel. To these are to be added the grave evils that have resulted from an intermingling and shameful confusion of the functions and duties of public authority with those of the economic sphere -- such as, one of the worst, the virtual degradation of the majesty of the State, which although it ought to sit on high like a queen and supreme arbitress, free from all partiality and intent upon the one common good and justice, is become a slave, surrendered and delivered to the passions and greed of men. And as to international relations, two different streams have issued from the one fountain-head: On the one hand, economic nationalism or even economic imperialism; on the other, a no less deadly and accursed internationalism of finance or international imperialism whose country is where profit is. (Papal Encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno, 15 May 1931).

Counter Claim:
1. But Catholic wisdom, sustained by the precepts of natural and divine law, provides with especial care for public and private tranquillity in its doctrines and teachings regarding the duty of government and the distribution of the goods which are necessary for life and use. For, while the socialists would destroy the "right" of property, alleging it to be a human invention altogether opposed to the inborn equality of man, and, claiming a community of goods, argue that poverty should not be peaceably endured, and that the property and privileges of the rich may be rightly invaded, the Church, with much greater wisdom and good sense, recognizes the inequality among men, who are born with different powers of body and mind, inequality in actual possession, also, and holds that the right of property and of ownership, which springs from nature itself, must not be touched and stands inviolate. (Papal Encyclical, Quod Apostolici Muneris, 1878).

2. Yet, however the earth may be apportioned among private owners, it does not cease to serve the common interest of all, inasmuch as no living being is sustained except by what the fields bring forth. Those who lack resources supply labor, so that it can be truly affirmed that the entire scheme of securing a livelihood consists in the labor which a person expends either on his own land or in some working occupation, the compensation for which is drawn ultimately from no other source than from the varied products of the earth and is exchanged for them. For this reason it also follows that private possessions are clearly in accord with nature. The earth indeed produces in great abundance the things to preserve and, especially, to perfect life, but of itself it could not produce them without human cultivation and care. Moreover, since man expends his mental energy and his bodily strength in procuring the goods of nature, by this very act he appropriates that part of physical nature to himself which he has cultivated. On it he leaves impressed, as it were, a kind of image of his person, so that it must be altogether just that he should possess that part as his very own and that no one in any way should be permitted to violate his right. (Papal Encyclical, Rerum Novarum, 1891).

Problem Type:
D: Detailed problems
Date of last update
18.05.1999 – 00:00 CEST