By Paul Hein.
Exclusive to STR
The two terms have always confused me. In general, public means the people considered as a whole, the populace, the citizenry, etc. Private, on the other hand, refers to particular individuals. So public ownership means ownership by everyone, which is a bewildering concept, to say the least. Private ownership, on the other hand, is straightforward: this is MINE. But is it?
Politicians are prone to speak of certain impressive government buildings as belonging to the public. It sounds good, and probably reassures the politically simple. The White House, we are assured, is the people’s house! Gee, that’s wonderful. Just don’t plan to have your daughter’s wedding reception there, however. You’ll quickly find out that the White House is definitely NOT owned by you, or your entire neighborhood, city, state, or nation, unless by “nation” you mean the rulers. That most public of buildings, like the houses of Congress, the Supreme Court, or the Treasury, is definitely off limits to the public unless prior approval has been given by the rulers. So is public private?
The reverse is true as well. You may consider certain items of property yours, because they are “private.” You suffer from this delusion because you bought them, paid for them, and may even have impressive documents attesting to your ownership. You have heard the expression “private property” all your life. If, however, you decline to support the public schools in your area, you will learn that your house, or car, actually belongs to the rulers, who will claim it in perfectly routine fashion (by the strangest stroke of good luck—for them--the courts are owned and operated by them) and take possession without a hitch. So the concept of private property must be understood to mean “private” only as long as regular tribute is made to the publicans, in amounts, and at times and places, that they dictate. So private may actually mean public. It’s all very clear, isn’t it?
If a single factor could be found to trigger a political revolution in America, it might be the idea of ownership. What does it mean to actually OWN something? It’s a subject worthy of meditation. If something is mine--actually, truly, mine--how can it belong to someone else? How can MY income, for example, be claimed by anyone else? Is it mine, or isn’t it? The assumption, I believe, is that my (sic!) property belongs to others because they are the government, and they make the rules. Isn’t that a preposterous idea? What it boils down to is that the strangers who claim that my property is actually theirs can do so because they say so. They make the laws, which they enjoin us to take most seriously, and by those laws they can take what we naively think belongs to us. Private property becomes public, if the private individuals calling themselves government say so. It’s madness!
There’s a variation upon this theme of ownership: The rulers are not only willing to have me share my goods with them, but they will lavish upon me a share of what they have, as well. What they have is debt--staggering, mind-boggling debt. As private individuals (Government, after all, is an abstraction. Did you ever see the United States buying things at Wal-Mart?), the rulers run up astonishing bills for their pet projects, which they then term the public debt, meaning that you and I--the public--are expected to pay them. If it is proper and fitting to ask, “How can mine be theirs?” it is equally proper and fitting to question the converse: “How can theirs be mine?”
We are soothed with the assurance that government derives its power by delegation from the people, but, personally, I don’t have the right to seize other people’s property, or to burden them with my debts. I’d be willing to bet you don’t have that power, either. How, therefore, could we delegate to Congress a power we don’t have?
It’s a simple question that everyone should ask of his Congressmen: By what legitimate process does mine becomes yours? Don’t accept “the law” as an answer; the ones who plunder are the ones who make the laws. (Besides, the question involves morality, not legislation.) If it has never occurred to you to ask, or if you dismiss it as somehow improper, can you complain when you end up virtually penniless in government housing, commuting to work on public transportation, being given an “allowance” instead of what you’re worth? If there is a line to be drawn between the people and those who would be their rulers, it involves this simple question: How can this be yours, when it is mine? If you accept the idea that strangers can claim for themselves what you think of as yours, you have put the yoke upon your shoulders. Quit complaining, and pull!