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Property for People, Not for Profit: Alternatives to the Global Tyranny of Capital

Property for People, Not for Profit: Alternatives to the Global Tyranny of Capital

by Ulrich Duchrow, Franz J. Hinkelammert

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The issue of private property and the rights it confers remain almost undiscussed in critiques of globalization and free market economics. Yet property lies at the heart of an economic system geared to profit maximization. The authors describe the historically specific and self-consciously explicit manner in which it emerged. They trace this history from earliest


The issue of private property and the rights it confers remain almost undiscussed in critiques of globalization and free market economics. Yet property lies at the heart of an economic system geared to profit maximization. The authors describe the historically specific and self-consciously explicit manner in which it emerged. They trace this history from earliest historical times and show how, in the hands of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke in particular, the notion of private property took on its absolutist nature and most extreme form - a form which neoliberal economics is now imposing on humanity worldwide through the pressures of globalization. They argue that avoiding the destruction of people‘s ways of living and of Nature requires reshaping our notions of private property. They look at practical ways for social and ecumenical movements to press for alternatives.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"This is a strong message, one that makes connections in politics, economics, philosophy and scripture. It is encouragement for those who have been told that 'there is no alternative', and urges upon us the claims of economic and political discipleship. It will bring excitement, challenge and controversy to any group."--The Rt Rev. Dr. Peter Selby, Bishop of Worcester and Bishop to HM Prisons

"Faith-based groups are enormously important in the global justice movement and they are on the move, as this penetrating and crucial text demonstrates. It is incumbent on us all to incorporate this dimension in our own analyses so that we can move forward in unity, secularists and faith-oriented together, in the common quest for justice. This book is a great step forward on that road."--Susan George, author and campaigner

"This learned book makes an important contribution to the growing Christian literature denouncing today's neo-liberal capitalism as an economic engine of destruction. The authors demonstrate that the globalization of the unregulated market, driven by the accumulation of property and protected by military empire, leads to the impoverishment of ever wider sectors of humanity and the devastation of the natural environment, promoting a civilization of death."--Gregory Baum, Professor Emeritus, McGill-Queens University, theologian
"This book is an interesting and significant contribution to the growing discussion on the adverse effects of the implementation of unbridled global market activities. It also has good ideas on what can be done to rectify the situation. I hope many people will read it and draw lessons from it."--Martin Khor, Director, Third World Network

"I highly recommend Property for People, Not for Profit. Capitalism today is too often thought of as 'natural' or 'God-given' when a careful examination of the history of its development and the evolution of religious thought shows that there are other ways to think about how our economy and society should be organized. The most valuable contribution of this book, however, is to show how another world is possible. Duchrow and Hinkelammert also challenge the churches to renounce the worship of Mammon and serve the God of life by supporting social movements working for alternatives."--Dennis Howlett, KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives

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Property for People, Not for Profit

Alternatives to the Global Tyranny of Capital

By Ulrich Duchrow, Franz J. Hinkelammert, Elaine Griffiths, Trish Davie, Michael Marten, Paraic Réamonn

Zed Books Ltd

Copyright © 2004 Ulrich Duchrow and Franz J. Hinkelammert
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-2-8254-1400-2


Absolute property creates poverty, debts and slavery: the origin of the property economy in antiquity and biblical alternatives

§ There are different theories concerning the origins of private property. One thing is certain, though: the first forms of private property arose in the late eighth century BCE, gaining ground in Greece and in the whole of the ancient Near East. It is also certain that money originated around the same time (not yet in the form of coins). There is no agreement among researchers about how it originated, but at any rate the two institutions, property and money, must have had something to do with each other.

The first, most widespread assumption is that money arose from bartering, and was at the same time the means of increasing property. The first to present a developed theory was Aristotle (following Plato). He distinguished two types of economy: one supplying households and the broader community (polis) with the goods needed to satisfy basic needs (oikonomiké), the other used to increase monetary property for its own sake (kapiliké, buying and selling as part of the artificial form of acquisition, khremastiké). This chrematistic economic form, according to Aristotle, arose from the former, natural form of economy since it, too, used money as a means of exchange for vital goods, first in the form of precious metals such as silver and gold, and later in the form of coins.

As a motive for the origin of the second, 'unnatural' form of chrematistic economy Aristotle – here too linking up with Plato – cited human desire (epithymía). The boundless accumulation of money creates the illusion in the individual person of accumulating infinite 'means of sustenance' and means of pleasure, and thereby living for ever. That means that the striving for more property, provided by monetary mechanisms, is based on the desire, transcending the individually desired object, for eternal life. Chasing after this illusion, the individual destroys community. As an antidote to this community-destructive behaviour Aristotle suggests, first, ethical education and, second, political prohibitions (i.e. protecting the good of the polis). This will be described in greater detail below.

The second theory connects the origin of money with the sacrificial practice of the temple and the collection of tribute by kingdoms and empires, where there is also an element of barter (see Veerkamp 1993: 32ff, following Kippenberg 1978: 51). According to Deuteronomy (14: 24f), this basically arose in the late seventh century. The Judaeans, who lived farther away from the central temple, were supposed to exchange their sacrificial gifts at home for silver, with which they could buy the right sacrificial animals at the temple in Jerusalem. Evidence of small sacrificial spears as early forms of money reinforces this theory of the emergence of money from temple operations. The great temple treasures also lead to the conclusion that the priesthood made a good profit from this business. In Jesus's later criticism of the temple (Mark 11: I5ff) it becomes clear that the sacrificial system introduced under King Solomon was a way of robbing the poor, and not just a means of facilitation through the use of money.

This sacrificial function of money became all the clearer in its use as a means for empires to raise tribute from their subjugated peoples. This was first reported of King Darius I of Persia (522–486 BCE). He introduced state-guaranteed money as a universal unit of account. In this way tribute could be raised over the whole year and not just at harvest time, and from all parts of the empire.

A third theory sees money deriving from the new credit relations that became possible with the emergence of private property (Heinsohn 1984; Heinsohn and Steiger 1996; Duchrow 2000a; Hungar 2000). G. Heinsohn and O. Steiger (HS) see things as follows:

1. The property economy arose in antiquity (and in the modern age) through revolution, with dependent farmers dividing the feudal lands among themselves in times of crisis; this took place in an egalitarian fashion and along patriarchal lines.

2. According to HS money arose from the credit contract. This was based on the new situation whereby owners could mortgage their property as debtors and 'burden' their property as creditors. Since the credit contract stipulated that the creditor had to 'burden' his property, and so could not use it himself, he allowed this renouncing of the 'ownership premium' (by analogy with Keynes's 'liquidity premium') to be paid for with interest. Yet the debtor not only had to raise this interest in addition to repaying the principle, but also to mortgage his own property, usually his land, as security. If the credit contract was written down this document (like a bill of exchange) could be used as a means of payment. It was secured not only by the mortgaging of the debtor's property but also by the 'burdenability' of the creditor's property. So the documenting of the credit contract was a way of making money. In short, money was the claim on burdened property. Markets arose through the fact that the debtors had to sell their credit-financed production at as favourable a price as possible, and in competition with each other. Only in this way could they service their debt.

3. According to HS the property economy was originally egalitarian, but through the creditor–debtor mechanism within society it inevitably brought forth inequality (classes). Debtors who could not repay their credits lost their land, i.e. their means of subsistence, and had to go into debt bondage with their whole family in order to work off their interest and loan. For their part, the creditors accumulated land and wealth.

For our purposes it is not necessary to give a definitive outline of the historical emergence of property and money. Wherever and however these institutions and their related mechanisms may have arisen, they became increasingly common from the mid-eighth century both in Greece and in Israel, and later in the Hellenistic empires and the Roman empire. We are primarily concerned in bringing out the specific economic, political, social and cultural constellations in Greece, Rome and ancient Israel, because they provide the categorial foundations for the modern development of property and money. They also provide us with options in the debate about alternatives.

Ancient Greece

An excellent, brief description of the conditions in ancient Athens is to be found in the article 'Property owners or citizens? Household, economics and politics in ancient Athens and in Aristotle' by Thomas Maissen (1998; see also Binswanger 1995). The Greek polis arose at the same time as the institutions of property and money. In order to understand this event in the late eighth and, above all, in the seventh century BCE, it is important to realize that polis does not mean a city but an agricultural region with a city – in the case of Athens, Attica. 'There are ... no hierarchical differences between town and country ... on the contrary: the citizen, the polites ... is generally a land owner and resident on the land, and only a citizen can own land at all. By contrast, land ownership was originally the formal precondition for the status of citizen' (Maissen 1998: 67). Herein lies the decisive change from the preceding age of warring nobility. In principle all farmers became landowners and together formed the area of the polis. They were therefore no longer dependent, through paying tribute, on the city-kingdoms.

They had slaves to farm their land, were self-sufficient and not dependent on any external assistance; they exchanged only at will in order to make their lives more comfortable. The place of this autarky was the household, the oíkos, the private economic and living space in which needs were met. Here the farmer ruled as head of the household (despótes) over slaves, women and children. On this basis farmers gained the freedom and leisure to meet as polítes, citizens, at the agora, the centre of the city, and to discuss and discharge the common affairs of the community. Trading took place here, as well as religious, judicial and sporting activities. The people's assembl y met here. In view of the time this required, it is clear why the full citizen needed leisure. Smallholders without slaves, or farmers losing their land, retained the heritable status of citizen, but they could participate in political life only to a limited degree. They were dependent on public money to be able to attend political events and the theatre.

Non-citizens – slaves, freedmen and metics (métoikos) – were distinct from citizens; they could not participate in political life. The metics were Greeks who had come to the city from other poleis. They were mostly merchants and craftsmen (bánausos), who – unlike the landowning citizens – had to pay a poll tax. In terms of property law the picture was as follows:

• citizens can own everything;

• slaves, although legally not even able to decide for themselves as an 'ensouled instrument', can possess movable goods to which their master has no automatic access;

• metics as non-citizens cannot possess land and generally cannot buy houses in the city. A metic can therefore not grant a loan to a citizen if offered land as security – what could he do if it fell to him? Metic property is mobile (money and valuables, clothes, tools, animals and slaves), but it is still unrestrictedly their own;

• what slaves earn belongs to them only with the consent of their masters;

• it is similar with women, who can enjoy the status of a free person and owner, but can neither enjoy legal capacity nor be entitled to inherit or possess wealth without the consent of their husband or male guardian;

• the same applies to children and minors. (Ibid.: 69)

Unlike HS, Maissen does not see a terminological or legal distinction between property and possession in the Greek polis, by contrast with Rome (see below), although the differentiation apparently occurs in practice (ibid.: 69f). The word for both is ídion, what 'is' (eínaí) to one, or what one has acquired (ktéma or ktésis), and it means 'the actual power and rule over an object'. It would, moreover, be anachronistic to envisage the polis as an integrated market with modern economic laws. Actual economic activities in the modern sense, such as agricultural production, urban crafts, trade and monetary transactions, were carried out by non-citizens. But money gradually began to play a role in the contractual organization of urban work with outside credit arrangements. The full citizen was involved in economic matters only as a landowner, mine lessor or lender for risky maritime trade (ibid.: 70).

Accordingly, his ideal was not the accumulation of wealth as such. Freedom to involve himself in political matters was to be acquired through having slaves working on the landed property, enabling a co-financing of community service (leiturgía), i.e. that which was necessary in emergencies and for the organization of religious and cultural events. Therein lay the glory and honour of citizens. The interest in wealth of non-citizens was despised. This was Aristotle's concern in his critical argument against limitless money accumulation at the expense of what he called the 'common good'.

Already in the ancient polis there were developments indicating that property not only provided the basis of the freedom of farmer-citizens but also generated divisions in society. This was demonstrated by Solon's reforms of 594 BCE. At the time, a good hundred years after the emergence of the polis, many farmers had apparently not only lost their land because they were not able to repay their loans, but had also become debt slaves. By contrast, others had risen to the position of large landowners. The losers called for a redistribution of land, proving the historical possibility of egalitarian approaches in ancient Greece, and for the abolition of debt bondage. The power base underlying this demand lay less in revolutionary phenomena, however, than in the newly introduced (in 700 BCE) war technology of the hoplite phalanx, for which trusty freemen were required (see Breuer 1987: I38f). Solon abolished the subjection of farmers and debt bondage, but expressly rejected land reform.

In this way there were many classes among those enjoying the political rights of citizens of the polis: the full citizens who, through the work of slaves on their properties, had the freedom and leisure to fully participate in the agora, the middle-ranking farmers who, while owning land, were forced to work themselves, and the landless, who had to hire themselves out as day-labourers but retained their civil rights. 'That is a political solution for a political problem: how can citizens remain citizens?' (Maissen 1998: 81). This political constitution related to property classes was called timocracy. Around the year 400 BCE about a quarter of the citizens of Athens owned no land (ibid.: 67). It is therefore noteworthy that this first form of democracy was expressly linked to (unequally distributed) property.

A. Künzli has compiled a list of the Greek sources since Hesiod (c. 750 BCE) in which property, money and greed are criticized as being destructive for the community; this is portrayed in myths, philosophy and comedy (Kunzli 1986: 63ff). In many cases the abolition of private property and the introduction of common property is demanded – in Plato for the upper class of guards and warriors. Aristotle argues, by contrast, for different forms of property in juxtaposition: private and common. But even private property is subject to moderate and generous usage, meaning that the landowning citizen leads a good life only if he does his bit in respect of his socially compensatory, cultic and military community responsibilities. 'The Greek state, the polis, does not act economically, it acts politically in taking from the wealthy what it needs to survive in external defence and for social and ritual integration' (Maissen 1998: 79). And this is not legally regulated, it is a moral obligation. The 'profit' for the wealthy is prestige and reputation in society. So economics, politics and ethics are inseparably linked in Aristotle's thinking.

Both the criticism and development of utopias reveal that the connection between impoverishment and enrichment was experienced, and they also raise the issue of the economic and psychological, or anthropological, mechanisms causing this division in the context of this 'ancient class society' (see Kippenberg 1977 and 1978). Whole new developments ensued when the manageable framework of the polis broke down and Alexander the Great, a student of Aristotle, founded the Hellenistic empire (after 333 BCE, first under Macedonian then under Egyptian-Ptolemaic and Syrian-Seleucidic leadership). Without political and moral control the striving for possession and wealth expanded greatly. This was compounded by the tribute obligation of the subject peoples towards the respective empires and their administrations, and the consequent increased social conflicts. Hellenism therefore united two forms of exploitation: that of the monarchy or empire, and that based on property, interest, indebtedness, loss of land and slavery.

From the perspective of Judaea and the true faith in Yahweh, four elements, in particular, were responsible for the increasing social division in the Hellenistic period (until 64 BCE) (see Albertz 1992: 594ff):

1. The commercialization of landed property that according to Lev. 25 was prohibited for Jews was extended from Greece to the whole kingdom; this led to increasing concentration of land and, in turn, land loss.

2. The mechanism of property, interest and mortgaging led, moreover, to increased debt slavery.

3. The internationalization of the Hellenist world entailed a rising trade in foreign slaves. 'Palestine became a slave-exporting country to cover the enormous demand for slaves in the Graeco-Roman world' (ibid.: 595).

4. The intensification of the tribute system consequent on allowing local large landowners to lease the collection of taxes, levies and customs duties – on the understanding that they could keep all that remained for themselves after handing on the tribute squeezed out of the population. All this was a terrible change for a people that had emerged from the status of freed slaves and tribute-exempt farmers. The Book of Job reflects this process of the growing poverty of the Judaean population in Hellenism. (see Veerkamp 1993: 115ff)


Excerpted from Property for People, Not for Profit by Ulrich Duchrow, Franz J. Hinkelammert, Elaine Griffiths, Trish Davie, Michael Marten, Paraic Réamonn. Copyright © 2004 Ulrich Duchrow and Franz J. Hinkelammert. Excerpted by permission of Zed Books Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Ulrich Duchrow is Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Heidelberg, Germany. He is the co-founder of Kairos Europa, an ecumenical grassroots network striving for economic justice. Franz J. Hinkelammert is a German economist who has spent much of his working life in Latin America. He has had some of his work published in English - notably 'The Ideological Weapons of Death' (1986). Much of his work has appeared in Spanish.

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