Seventeen Contradictions: Private Appropriation and Common Wealth

Extra-legal activities are a known method for acquiring capital, despite their illegal nature they remain within the realm of real capital accumulation for those who easily circumvent the law. “Bankers do not care in principle, for example, whether their profits and excessive bonuses come from lending money to landlords who extract exorbitant rents from oppressed tenants, from merchants who price-gouge their customers, from credit card and telephone companies that bilk their users, from mortgage companies that illegally foreclose on homeowners or from manufacturers who savagely exploit their workers.” (Harvey 2014, 34)

With endless capabilities to accumulate capital and commodification of public commonwealth for private gain, money reached a level of embodied power that continues to plague us today. His most prominent argument rebukes the notion that land, labor, and money are commodities. Countering with Karl Polanyi’s writings, that “in disposing of a man’s labor power the system would, incidentally, dispose of the physical, psychological, and moral entity ‘man’ attached to that tag.”  (35) Unregulated capital has no moral compass; protections for culture and the environment are at risk under an economic regime fueled by greed and a disregard for sustainability. This “satanic mill” he argues, is a devastating contradiction of capitalism that ultimately dispossesses to the brink of capitalism own demise. Under an “unholy alliance of corporate and state power” (36) mass foreclosures, land grabs, and loss of public assets became commonplace; symptoms continuously justified and “ administered under the virtuous disguise of a politics of the austerity required to bring an ailing capitalism back into a supposedly healthy state.”

Harvey isn’t coy in his critique of state power and private enterprise, rather, he punctures any faith in corporate allegiance to public common wealth with a simple yet, somehow forgotten logic: “exchange value is everywhere the master and use value the slave.” (37) In other words, private profit overshadows public need, communal good and even, human rights. He continues, “Those blessed with sufficient money power can then buy up (or steal) almost anything and everything to the exclusion of the mass of the population that is lacking in sufficient money power, subversive guile or political/military influence to compete.” Harvey’s final point is a sharp reality check; class power cultivated through systemic disadvantage is not accidental, rather “it is the foundational raison d’être for the whole political and economic edifice that capital constructs.” (38) Though a bleak realization, it remains undeniably true. With capitalisms inception, private appropriation of common wealth became a template from which to extract maximum capital at the expense of those with no influential power.

Despite this rude awakening, I’m inspired to seek out movements that protect the greater public and access to common wealth assets. While this neoliberal system continues to erode public protections in favor of private interests, our current administration has unabashedly revealed these intentions. Ultimately, sparking a nation-wide backlash committed to securing affordable housing, single-payer healthcare, increasing education budgets, reducing military expenses, fighting global warming, protecting the environment, and demanding safe work with living wages. I wonder how we can continue to connect the common symptoms of a corrupt government, to the ideological state apparatus of capitalism.  

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