Private and public ownership

Robert Peter Burns rburns at
Sat Nov 4 16:17:14 MST 1995

Below I append some thoughts on the question of ownership
in response to a question about my LTP post on this list,
though they were originally sent to another list.

Peter Burns SJ
rburns at
> Why does a choice have to be made between private worker
> cooperatives on the one hand and state ownership <albeit
> a democratic state> on the other?  This is to presuppose that 
> property is one thing and must be vested whole and entire in 
> one kind of social actor or another.  But social ownership should 
> rather be seen as involving a rejection of this assumption.  The concept
> of property involves a *range* of rights and enjoyments, which
> under a system of *social* ownership would be *disaggregated* and
> distributed to various social actors, as against all of them
> being vested in private individuals *or* public agencies.
> Some property rights in the means of production could be
> be given to democratic collectives of workers--rights to use, 
> to management, to income <including net enteprise profits>,
> but with no right to alienate or decapitalize the assets they
> employ. Other rights could be assigned to a variety of operationally
> independent but still publicly accountable investment agencies--
> the right to control over the allocation of new funds for investment 
> in specific firms, and the right to oversight of the use of
> previously invested funds.  Other rights could be vested in
> democratic political bodies, such as local, state, or national
> legislatures--the right to decide on broad priorities in the
> aggregate level and composition of investment and public spending,
> the right to tax and regulate firms, and the right to oversee investment
> agencies.  In addition to such forms of social ownership, there could
> also be small businesses run as private cooperatives, and large industries
> run as fully nationalized concerns as in recent West European practice.
> But the key in all cases would be: no income simply from private
> ownership of capital, and the continuous subjection of the market
> to democratic forms of planning and regulation.  
> A distinction must be made between "market forces"--the atomistic,
> and hence anarchic processes that determine the structure of 
> production and investment, on the one hand, and on the other,
> "market exchanges"--the widespread use of flexible money prices
> as a distributive device for a range of goods and services <but not
> including health, education, social services, parks, libraries,
> certain forms of transportation, communication and housing, for example>.
> Socialism requires the abolition of the former, but can readily coexist
> with the latter.
> My favored model is well-argued for and presented in D. Schweickart,
> AGAINST CAPITALISM, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993.
> & Unwin, 1991; and D. Miller, MARKET, STATE AND COMMUNITY, Clarendon, 1989.
> O. Sik, FOR A HUMANE ECONOMIC DEMOCRACY, Praeger, 1985; B. Horvat, THE
> For a somewhat less market-oriented, but still not an either-or view,
> see P. Devine, DEMOCRACY AND ECONOMIC PLANNING, Polity, 1988.
> Peter Burns SJ
> rburns at

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