by Timothy Earle published in Jacobin
Read original on Jacobin's website
Seth Ackerman interviews Timothy Earle, the author...Show description
Posted 671 days ago
I just read the book, "Property" by Robert Lamb (Polity Books), which explores some of the same concepts as this article. Specifically, Ackerman asks about the "state of nature" of the classic political theorists (Hobbes, Lock, Rousseau) and if there was a point in time where private property came into being. As Lamb writes in his book, Earle respons in this interview that no, it was a gradual process that can't really be identified. But an important note is that Earle believes groups acquired pieces of land for us and gradually give leadership to single people, which then converted into more serious forms of private property. This happens because of circumscription and being able to impose their will and power over the populace, most likely because they have a monopoly-like control of a vital resource.
Curiously, though, Earle says that "society is a system that tends to de-organize itself; it breaks into smaller units." I though that curious, but I think maybe he's referring to empires being slowly widdled down into countries and the like. We seek smaller sub-units of governance. I'm not sure this is true, but Earle is the academic here.
He ends the interview with a passage that I thought was pretty interesting:
For example, part of the development of social stratification in Bronze Age Europe was establishing property over particular points in river systems — basically, anybody who passed underneath your fortified settlement had to pay you. So you see a pretty high degree of social differentiation along the rivers where that could be done.
But if you had a braided river, where there are many different routes, which makes it tough to control, you don’t find that — it’s more egalitarian. That bottleneck in the economy, that point of control, is created by putting up that fort or that castle sitting right above the river.
So, the question is, can you keep that from happening? That was Adam Smith’s argument for the free market — which was nothing like what people mean today by a “free market.” He wanted to do away with private monopolies granted by kings.
It does make sense that the diversification of a political economy would lead to more egalitarian terms. Nobody can grab hold of the single resource or single means of production of something. It's an important thing to think about as we build out the economy for the 21st century.