Ownership and Freedom
AUGUST 01, 1971 by DEAN RUSSELL
Dr. Russell is Director of the Graduate Program in Management, Dominican College, Racine,
Freedom is based on ownership. If it is possible for a person to own land and machines and buildings, it is also possible for him to have freedom of press, speech, and religion. But if it is impossible for a person to buy and sell land and other resources, then it is also impossible for him to have peaceful access to any effective means of disagreeing with the decisions of his government. Thus my contention is that, in the final analysis, human freedom stands or falls with the market economy of private ownership of the means of production and distribution.
True enough, freedom may be temporarily suppressed to some considerable extent by various forms of censorship under a system of private property; but, at least, there is still discussion about it (and even objection to it) in the privately owned newspapers. In contrast, my thesis is that the issue of censorship can’t even arise in a society in which all the means of production and distribution are owned in common by all the people. Thus, "ownership" is the key to any discussion of freedom.
For example, no one disputes the fact that a slave is still not free even when he is permitted several legal "freedoms." The slave owns nothing that he can use to protest—neither a printing press nor a pulpit nor a speaking platform. Everyone understands that the slave’s owner is still in charge, primarily because he can deprive his slave of all material possessions. But few people appear to understand the similar correlation between freedom of religion in general and the ownership of the church buildings. Yet it should be obvious that if all churches and seminaries are owned in common through the government, freedom of religion as we know it in the
True enough, various "freedoms" in this area may be permitted by the governmental owners, sometimes referred to as the "managers of the people’s property." And, of course, it is always possible for anyone to be a secret believer. But freedom for a person to disagree completely and openly with the religious beliefs of all other people—and to announce and establish a new religion—is simply not possible in a society where all resources are owned in common, instead of by individuals or groups of individuals. An entire nation of "in common" owners simply will not permit their leaders to allocate scarce "food and housing" resources to the building of seminaries and churches for misguided individuals who believe that the best representation of God is a black woman, or that God is an omnipotent entity who directly interferes in the daily activities of persons who please or displease him. And under a system of governmental ownership of the means of production and distribution, surely it is obvious that there can be no seminaries and churches for those strange people who believe that "in common" or governmental ownership is contrary to the teachings of a Supreme Being who emphasizes individual responsibility, voluntary association, and personal salvation.
Conditions Consistent with Freedom of the Press
If freedom of the press is to have any substance, it must include the following arrangement: Every person (if he is willing to pay a modest price) has easy access to a printing press, and the government itself protects his right to distribute his written messages of total disagreement with various governmental policies and officials. Surely, no one is foolish enough to imagine that this "free press" arrangement can exist when all of the printing machinery is owned in common by the people through their government.
No rational person has ever seriously suggested that Castro should promote an anti-Castro press in
Private Ownership the Key
My theory is that freedom of press, speech, and religion are likely to flourish wherever the means of production and distribution are owned by individuals and are operated for profit. (Note that detractors of the press in the
Test this idea empirically by looking at the nations around the world with "command" economies of common ownership and the nations with some recognizable form of "market" economy wherein the primary motivation for production is the hope of profit. My "mere theory" of a necessary relationship between the free market economy of private ownership—and freedom of press, speech, and religion—will be empirically validated.
Does censorship of privately owned newspapers, e.g., in
There should be nothing surprising about that fact; the publisher of The New York Times doesn’t denounce himself in his own newspaper—any more than do the publishers of Pravda, i.e., the leaders of the Communist Party. The private owners of The Washington Post are free to advocate the abolition of private ownership, if they wish to do so. It is literally impossible, however, for the governmental owners of Izvestia to advocate that newspapers be turned over to private ownership in
Ownership in Common Sets Stage for Pollution
Most people are usually impressed by their empirical comparisons of freedom of press, speech, and religion in East and
Even those few, however, are still prone to worry about the "pollution and slums and discrimination and fraud and false advertising that are caused by the free market economy."
It should be obvious, however, that "pollution" is not peculiar to the free market economy of private ownership. The same problem exists in a command economy of ownership in common; in fact, pollution has now become an exceedingly serious problem in industrialized
As for racial and religious discrimination, one of the most vicious examples of it exists in the
Slums and slum conditions exist, of course, in
Nor is "fraud" peculiar to a market economy; since this is a character-defect that inheres only in individuals, it exists under all forms of ownership. And false and misleading advertising is obviously an "in common" problem which must be solved by law, i.e., the legislatures and courts of the governments of the people—any people and any government.
Actually, the accusations so frequently directed against the free market economy—pollution, false advertising, violence in various forms and degrees, including war—are generally misdirected; those social ills are mostly the result of corrupt or apathetic or deluded or power-mad governmental officials who are not even capable of performing their primary functions of maintaining the peace, suppressing fraud, and attending to other obvious functions that are clearly of an "in common" concern to everyone.
Well, that’s what I mean by the free market economy of private ownership of the means of production and distribution. I’m for it because I am convinced that all freedoms must necessarily disappear soon after the market system of producing and distributing goods and services is abolished or allowed to decay.