October 24, 2011
Making a Noise Like a Turnip

From The Acquisitive Society, by R.H. Tawney (1920)

All these rights — ground-rents, monopoly profits — are “Property.” The criticism most fatal to theml is not that of Socialists. It is contained in the arguments by which property is usually defended. For if the meaning of the institution is to encourage industry by securing that the workman shall receive the produce of his toil, then precisely in proportion as it is important to preserve the property which a man has in the results of his own efforts, is it important to abolish that which he has in the results of the efforts of someone else.

The considerations which justify ownership as a function are those which condemn it as a tax. Property is not theft, but a good deal of theft becomes property. The owner of royalties who, when asked why he should be paid £50,000 a year from minerals which he has neither discovered or developed nor worked but only owned, replies, “But it’s property!” may feel all the awe which his language suggests. But in reality he is behaving like the snake which sinks into its background by pretending that it is the dead branch of a tree, or the lunatic who tries to catch rabbits by sitting behind a hedge and making a noise like a turnip. He is practising protective — and sometimes aggressive — mimicry. His sentiments about property are those of the simple toiler who fears that what he has sown another may reap. His claim is to be allowed to reap what another has sown…

In countries where the development of industrial organization has separated the ownership of property and the performance of work, the normal effect of private property is to transfer to functionless owners the surplus arising from the more fertile sites, the better machinery, the more elaborate organization…

It is the foundation of an inequality which is not accidental or temporary, but necessary and permanent. And on this inequality is erected the whole apparatus of class institutions, which make not only the income, but the housing, education, health and manners, indeed the very physical appearance of different classes of Englishmen almost as different from each other as though the minority were alien settlers established amid the rude civilization of race of impoverished aborigines.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at October 24, 2011 09:47 PM
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I see where I have fallen short in life is spending too much of my time sitting behind hedges making a noise like a turnip. Maybe I have acquired squatter's rights to the hedges and, thus, property?

Posted by: on October 25, 2011 5:25 PM
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