China Embraces Private Property

Manila Bulletin, April 13, 2007 | Go to article overview

China Embraces Private Property


KARL Marx, who said that private property is theft, must have turned in his grave when the Chinese parliament recently passed a law giving protection to private property in the most populous country in the world. Private property in real estate, stocks and bonds, and other forms of capital investments now is as legal as public and collective ownership in China. The law was approved by an overwhelming majority of 2,799 votes in favor, 52 against, and 37 abstentions. It is clear that rationality finally has won over the leftist madness that traumatized China for some 70 years before the reforms introduced by Deng Xiao Peng in the late 1970s.

The legalization of private property in China has happened gradually over the last thirty years. When Deng Xiao Peng started the march towards a market economy in 1978, the first move was to introduce the so-called "responsibility system" in the farming sector. The evidently unproductive "communes" which were responsible for the starvation of millions of Chinese during the worst years of the rule of Mao Zedung were dismantled in 1978. Small farmers were allowed to lease the lots they were tilling for a period of fifteen years and they could keep and sell 70 percent of their produce, with the remaining 30 percent being given to the State in the form of rentals. Such an arrangement was an instant success in increasing significantly the production of farm crops, proving once again that it is part of human nature for an individual to be motivated by private property.

Private property is necessary for the human dignity of the individual. Unless one can freely plan his future on the basis of a stable relationship with a good of this earth, he cannot enjoy true freedom. He will always be at the mercy of some higher authority who has the disposition of the property he uses for his living. As Milton Friedman said long ago, there is no liberty without liberties. If one is not free to have something as his very own, he cannot exercise other liberties which are more profound, such as thinking whatever he pleases, saying whatever he wants to say, praying to whomever he wants to pray and opposing the authorities if they try to oppress him. Private property is in turn the basis for the market economy. If a person has a right to own property, he should be free to buy and sell property. Buying and selling are the very bases of a market economy. The market itself is not an absolute good. It is only a means to guarantee the dignity of each human being, the foundational principle of every just and humane society.

China has taken the final step to legalize private property because it has gathered more than enough evidences during the last thirty years that a market economy, which is the necessary consequence of the right to private property, has done wonders to the Chinese economy. Tens of millions of heretofore poor Chinese have joined the middle class, even if the vast majority of the Chinese population are still extremely poor. There is enough reason to hope that by expanding the benefits of the market economy to the poorest of the poor, mass poverty can be eliminated in the next twenty to thirty years.

Long ago, the philosopher and theologian St. …

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