Understanding the Social Function of Private Property

Free enterprise and private property have some rather strange supporters around the world. While professing to be ardent anti-communists, these supporters always advocate some restrictions on private property or free enterprise when proposing solutions for socio-economic problems. The greater the limitations, the more they rejoice.

Their justification is always the same: Private property and free enterprise have a social function, which allows them to be pruned and mutilated at will. The more they accept their ruin, the better they serve the nation.

If this justification were true, private ownership and free enterprise would be evil. However, for all beneficial things, the more they become useful, the more they develop. Moreover, the common good requires a policy of pruning and destruction only for what is evil.

What kind of anti-communists are these supporters, who tend to do exactly what the communists want and consider private property and free enterprise as communists see them?

Every individual right must normally be guaranteed and promoted. When required for the common good, rights can only suffer limitations in exceptional cases. However, such restrictions never authorise the principle “the more you cut, the better.” Common sense dictates that rights be respected.

Take the example of workers’ rights. For the community’s benefit, they can also be limited. Thus, while the right to strike is accepted as indisputable, some limits can be imposed on this right when for the benefit of all. However, the existence of limitations does not mean that the more workers’ rights are restricted, the better it will be for the country.

Free enterprise and private ownership are irreplaceable institutions for increasing production. This production is their main social function. People strive to work as hard as they can if assured that they can accumulate the fruits of their labour for their benefit and pass them on to their children. When this stimulus is lacking, and all their work—except their salaries—benefits the community, they become State workers. The result is underproduction and hunger—the inseparable evils of collectivist regimes.

Why do socialist regimes cause misery? Because private property and free enterprise are not fulfilling their primary social role in socialist countries. That social function is to produce. How, then, can you—strange anti-communists—affirm that the more you cut, prune and pummel private property and free enterprise, the better they will fulfil their social function of working for the common good?

– By Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira

The preceding article is adapted from an article in the Brazilian newspaper, O Jornal, published in Rio de Janeiro on September 30, 1972.

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