Thursday, 22 January 2009

Ownership & Power

The alleged strength of the web is that it allows different pieces of information to be put together quickly, and in radically different ways. So let me attempt a small 'mash-up'.

1. Tom says ownership is nominal in the stock markets - and it shouldn't be. Owners should care about what they own, not just treat ownership rights as just another mechanism for extracting rent. Indeed, classical socialism - of either Marxist or social democratic hue - was based on the default assumption that they did care. ( That last bit is me, not Tom).

2. But Snowflake tell me something I didn't know: in America, home ownership rights - which, as here, are mainly mortgaged - can work differently. People can walk away from negative equity with far fewer c0consequences than in Britain if they have a 'non-recourse mortgage', leaving the loss with the bank or mortgage company. So defaults obviously happen more often. New, lesser, forms of property right appear to have been specifically invented to allow the great financial institutions to become better at extracting rent. It's just gone horribly wrong for them - but less wrong, in America, for those in negative equity than here. So untrammeled personal ownership can have its downsides for most of us.Perhaps we don't alway want to own things?

3. I can finally see, therefore, 14 years after its abolition, that the following formulation doesn't quite do it:
""To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service."( My emphasis).

It's about control, not ownership. Which is a more Weberian discourse than a (classical) Marxist* one. But it is non- classical Marxism in the form of the great British Marxist historians who have best traced the development of power relations.

(* & ,yeah, I know Sidney Webb - author of Clause 4 - wasn't a Marxist. But Clause 4 is the authentic expression of domestic British socialism, and was produced under the pressure of events in the East.)

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