Philosophical Foundations Of Poverty And Distribution Essay

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Any Lockeian scholar would be lying if they told you that any topic in the secondary literature on the Two Treatises of Government was more famous (or infamousÉdepending on who you talk to), widely debated, or caused more controversy than the old Oxford gradÕs theory of property. Some are shouting from the left that Locke argues a rights claim for subsistence for all individuals, that it may even support MarxÕs theory of exploitation. Yelling back are those from the right who claim that he formulates a moral justification for capitalist appropriation of property. Then of course there are those somewhere in between who are telling everyone to shut up because Locke wrote the damn thing over three hundred years ago in the political context of 17th century England and to derive these kinds of modern political presumptions is ludicrous. They all make fine cases for their respective theories. This humble treatise, however, will merely essay to provide a fairly objective explanation of John LockeÕs disputed offering to the political and economic understanding of property and how it relates to poverty and the distribution of wealth. It will then continue to examine the two most preeminent, contemporary champions of welfarist and entitlement theories in that of John Rawls and Robert Nozick respectively, focusing specifically on what they, standing on LockeÕs shoulders, offer as an acceptable system of economic justice. Locke begins by stating that each person has a natural right to preserve his or her life. "God has given the Earth to all people in common for their sustenance." ;(Locke 310). In the state of nature, each person owns everything in nature equally with everyone else. However, some things in nature must be "appropriated" ;in order for one to derive any sustaining benefit from them. As an example, Locke says one must take possession of acorns or apples in order to eat them and, so, derive sustenance from them. But one must do something positive in order to appropriate the acorns or apples and, thus, make them one's own. A person possesses his or her own body and the actions of that body. One owns oneself. By virtue of exercising the labor of one's body in conjunction with the machinations of nature on land held in common by mankind, one removes a thing from the state of nature and makes it one's own. Locke says that one's labors puts a "distinction" ;between oneself and the rest of mankind in relation to the object of one's labors. The rights of the individual as expressed in one's labors creates private rights. Ownership comes out of the appropriation of land and the mixing of labor into the appropriated land. This originates in the state of nature where there is no government above the individual to impede their efforts to use and hold onto their property nor regulate trade between buyers and sellers. Natural freedom, according to Locke, is to live within the bounds of natural law (reason) which are respected in the state of nature as the right to enjoy the product of one's labor and protect its use. This does not mean, however, that every person has a right to remove from nature everything that he or she wills. There are limits to what may be appropriated from nature. First, something may be appropriated from nature so long as it is enjoyed. Next, one may appropriate to the point of spoilage or destruction. It is a limit because the properties that were spoiled or destroyed should have remained common property. As common property, another person could have mixed his or her labors with nature, thus taking it his or her property. In terms of land, one takes possession of land by improving it. It is owned to the extent that one can manage the land and use its products, and is subject to the same limitations as the other things one can appropriate from nature through his labors. God has commanded that it be so to the extent that He commanded mankind to labor over the earth. And regardless of one's appropriation of land, there is so much land left in common that the affect of appropriating the land is negligible. Indeed, when one cultivates his land, one increases the "common stock" ;of mankind by creating an abundance of product, when compared to leaving the same land to nature. Thus any amount that is cultivated beyond one's needs can be used to supply the needs of others. That portion of one's lands which produces the surplus remains somewhat in the possession of the rest of mankind. The rest of mankind benefit's from the abundance produced through labor. Civic freedom in the political society transfers only the right of property protection to the government, the executive power of individuals becomes the government's duty to punish transgressions of natural law. Civil rights, argues Locke, are not the restriction of the liberties of private property but the consent of individuals to this duty of government to be the judge and executor of civil law founded upon principles of reason. Property rights are passed on from the state of nature to the political state. John Locke demands that the government which is instituted by the political society is assigned with the power and purpose to regulate and protect the use of property. He argues that people are not "naturally subject" ;to any human government but introduces the consent of the governed concept. The people, however, have the natural liberty at all time to revoke their trust in the government, should it unjustly intrude on their property rights, equality, or other freedoms. But Locke clearly articulates this breaking of trust in a government is not a return to the state of nature but to the political society (which then creates a new government). During this upheaval the natural right of individuals to own and use private property is maintained ;the "artificial" ;government is what changes. Locke does believe that this human government will be uncorrupted as it was mentioned earlier that "perfect freedom" ;is an ideal for imperfect beings. The social contract, in the form of Locke's political society, is primarily meant to secure individual freedom. Whether it binds together a group of people with a national myth or social identity seems to be a secondary benefit of the political society. Locke intends for the distinct members of the newly formed civil state to be served by their government, not serve the personal interests of the leaders. It is interesting that the method Locke prescribes for choosing the form of government is a majority vote among the political society's members but that form of government is not necessarily representative democracy. Once the form of government is decided then the people place their trust in whatever it is, revocable by the citizens should it interfere in their civic liberties and private property. The political society formed out of the individuals and not the government would be the social identity of Locke's state. The government can be replaced by the permanent political society. Without private property rights to be protected it could be possible to guarantee individual freedom for everyone to appropriate as much as they please. But Locke points out that property accumulation is limited, not by intruders, by the factors of spoilage and individual labor strength (not necessarily intruders). Labor not only defines the individual as owner of property but also defines how much of the property can be appropriated. The property is meant to be enjoyed by the owner to the maximum ;only as much property that can be used without surplus spoiling is the other limitation of accumulation. Locke's detailed discussion in Chapter V outlines the impact of money in reducing and eliminating these limitations by exploiting the so-called surplus value and wage-labor to maximize profits. It is most important for Locke that this productive activity is free from intrusion by other individuals in the state of nature and the government in the civil state. There is no individual freedom unless property rights are established and property protection is enforced. Modern-day critics label these statements as justification of uncontrolled, industrialized capitalism and exploitation of the labor working class. "[Some scholars feel] that LockeÕs theory indirectly inspired Karl MarxÕs theory of exploitation" ;(Yolton 90). Some thinkers like Marx actively participated in organizations with the goal of bringing down liberal, capitalist states. Yet today documents like the American constitution, embody principles such as consent of the governed, inalienable rights, and protection of property. Individual freedom is meaningless without private property in both the "non-governmental", theoretical state of nature and political societies such as the United States which are modeled on liberal ideas espoused by Locke. Finally, though the natural and political states are founded on reason as revealed by the divine will Locke does not propose theocracy but the right of members of the civic state to choose whatever form of government they want. Locke's view of property accepts and endorses two states of affairs we find problematic today. Huge differentials in wealth between the rich and the poor. Locke essentially claims that the advent of money made it possible to accumulate vast wealth. When wealth was measured in goods that were perishable, this meant that there was a limit to what could be accumulated and kept. For Locke, it is unjust to hoard those things which will simply perish uselessly and since money is something lasting, it can be hoarded without any problem. But as Locke continues, if a person exchanges his perishables for something durable, such as money, then if, he invaded not the right of others, he might heap up as much of these
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