Pitfalls of private property

In order to enrich themselves, private owners are despoiling millions of acres of forest land by turning them into pastures and farmland that throw off enormous profits. It is universally acknowledged that this practice has disastrous environmental and ecological results that threaten the very life of the planet. If these were public lands controlled by the people collectively through their democratic governments, this wanton destruction for profit justified under the rubric of "private property" would not occur.

Honduras offers a frightening example of what happens under the "private business" control of land. A few years ago, popular vote placed the country's first progressive president in office, Manual Zelaya. He embarked upon reforms intended to liberate the people from a historically non-democratic plutocracy that long enjoyed U.S. support. Within a year of the election, Zelaya was deposed in a coup by the old plutocracy that now governs Honduras - again, with U.S. support. Corruption is rife. The plutocracy colludes with drug lords, and the Honduran forests, rich in mahogany, are quickly moving from government conservationist control through people's cooperatives to the anarchy of private exploitation - a transition back to the horrors of massive despoliation. Says The New York Times (2/13/14), "Honduras shows how quickly the most successful conservation efforts can be reversed when state structures collapse."

Today, land invaders "strip the forest and transform the land into businesses like cattle ranching that can be used to launder drug money. There is a strong culture that national land is there to be occupied and made private."

Agribusiness has invaded the tropical forests that are home to half the planet's species. Brazil, whose agriculture accounts for 40 percent of its exports, has the world's highest proportion of tropical forest - rapidly being exploited for agricultural expansion through deforestation. The vast, relatively unexplored Chaco tropical forest in Paraguay - about the size of Poland and lying in the Gran Chaco plain that touches on several nations - is being deforested at the rate of 1.2 million acres every two years.

According to Simon Romero in The New York Times (3/25/12), "Ranchers making way for their vast herds of cattle have cleared roughly 10 percent of the Chaco forest in the last five years." The forest is home to the world's largest living species of peccary, probably innumerable undiscovered plant and other animal species, thousands of indigenous people, and "possibly the last uncontacted tribe in South America outside the Amazon." If profit has its way, "nearly all of the Chaco forest could be destroyed within 30 years."

This is what happens when governments collude with "private enterprise" rather than regulate it. Beware the alleged "freedom" and sanctity of private ownership. As Karl Marx, one of history's most irrationally and undeservedly discredited thinkers, said, " From the standpoint of a higher socio-economic formation, the private property of particular individuals in the earth will appear just as absurd as the private property of one man in other men. Even an entire society, a nation, or all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not the owners of the earth. They are simply its possessors, its beneficiaries, and have to bequeath it in an improved state to succeeding generations as good heads of the household."

Can any reasonable person tell me what's wrong with that?

Andrew Torre lives in Landgrove.


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