Thoughts While Making Sauerkraut; Property and the Judo of Its Destruction

Last Fall I took advantage of low cabbage prices and the cool temperatures to make my annual batch of sauerkraut. It’s a pleasant hour and turns 10 dollars worth of raw materials into 50 dollars worth of kraut. I slice and then hand mix salt, cabbage, onions etc. The challenge is to keep the air away from the ferment for 6 weeks. My work incorporates decades of experience, illustrates the Krebs cycle and reminds me of our kids who savored the crispness and nutty flavor of lactic acid. The IRS can’t grab this libertarian’s gain although it’s almost verbatim John Locke’s definition of property.

Locke, in his Second Treatise, wrote about the individual taking raw, worthless land (as in America) and converting it into property. Locke wrote, “he had mixed his labor with it and joined it to something of his own and thereby made it his property”. In Locke’s time, raw forest abounded and was worthless while productive farmland represented the tool needed to make a living. Nowadays the raw material could be a shrewd business idea, a vague theoretical concept that could be turned into a brilliant invention or the cheap cabbage to make the sauerkraut that makes me happy. No matter what the raw material, adding labor makes it become the property, a part of the very substance of whoever found and developed the unexploited potential. You’re Teaching ... Grossman M.D., Miriam Best Price: $16.51 Buy New $14.33 (as of 08:22 UTC - Details)

Adopting this explanation to my personal circumstances; my education and training, work history, experience, tools and professional contacts are the means of making a living as a physician.   I also count as property the customs, habits and hopes, those things that can be construed to be features of a moral life.  My property includes the savings and pensions that I have accumulated after a career of working hard and living frugally.  I benefit from ownership of these assets as an insurance scheme against age and illness. Material wealth is also important because it allows me, the endowed, with extra time to make better decisions. Wealth then has an effect on the owner.

Yet some of this kind of wealth is alienated; it does not reflect my moral and intellectual values. This saved or unexpended labor is invested in various financial instruments “prudently” diversified following rules promulgated by academics. Most savings fund regular companies producing goods and services that are sold at a profit. But some of that money goes to companies like KKK, the mountain of money that buys up productive companies and then tears them apart and sells the profitable parts – and damn the losers.

I’d like to reflect on how some elements of this predatory turn of property differ from the property of my lived life.

I’ll stay in the area of finance. Let’s say that I buy shares of Goldman-Sachs or of some similar investment corporation. My involvement was doing some research on that stock and buying it for my online IRA account. Goldman-Sachs was started many years ago by the eponymous entrepreneurs who made it their property by intertwining their lives with the venture. They died but the business continued  and it grew larger, capitalized by strangers.The ownership was divided among an ever enlarging circle of partners and then more recently between shareholders and various lenders. The ownership interest became divided in a million ways but very few of the current owners either understand or will do the work necessary to make good banking decisions. Goldman changed; It started making serious money in manipulating large blocks of money in the bond market,  derivatives, foreign currency trading, mergers and the like. Few”owners” could endure the legal grind of mergers or handle the math on options.  Their claim to this “property” would seem to be fairly abstract.

Most owners are not critically dependent on this one stock and see it as another accounting entry in a properly diversified portfolio. They have not mixed their labor with pure potential making it the property that is part of their very being. Indeed, I would argue that the spinning of derivatives,  playing with currencies and operating at the edges of laws is not productive property at all, but rather a sort of casino in which poor people fritter away their savings.
Candidly, Goldman-Sachs causes big things to happen so that large projects get built and markets are tranquil. But It is run by an incestuous gang of managers, a  politicized Board of Directors and with the connivance of a governmental nomenklatura.  The big money is made by playing loose and fast with ethical business practices, engendering ad hoc laws to restrict competition, obfuscating losses, influencing the media to create favorable publicity, gaining obscene amounts of money with which they handsomely reward managers and directors. It buys politicians. The megacorporation makes money by offshoring manufacturing and screwing the little people who lose their livelihoods. They keep the stockholders placid, increasing their “equity” by playing the financial and unproductive games of buybacks…. The extreme financial chicanery is by Blackstone which collected a trillion in retirement savings and then bought the stock of corporations sufficient to control governance of productive companies, all in service of a political fantasy.

 I submit that the major activities of these entities is avoiding taxes, making money with money and not by making salable goods.  They prosper in courthouses and in the froth of our modern fiat currencies. They turn productive property back into worthless potential, nullifying the labor that created them, destroying property.

I can conjure up similar criticisms for the military industrial complex, for many drug companies and for governments.

Prudent investment portfolio theory, mutual funds and exchange traded funds all include these moral stinkers.

I’m not alone in being appalled by the aberrant course that the use of some of my property has taken. The left, citing the obvious skunks, generalizes the criticism to  big corporations, generally accusing them of greed. The left is just shamelessly pandering to their populist base.  Their real goal is to tax them under the guise that corporations are not people but rather financial structures that manage shady money. The left wants to hog all the property for themselves. Forever Strong: A New,... Lyon, Dr. Gabrielle Best Price: $14.45 Buy New $17.45 (as of 08:47 UTC - Details)

The right, in their muddled way, try to justify the megacorporations, no matter what their activities because of a commitment to raw capitalism. Both liberals and conservatives take generous donations from these corrupt organizations, passing laws dictated by their pay masters while pocketing kickbacks.

The liberals and conservatives use conventional, neutral language to dignify these entities; they don’t want to disrupt long term, mutually beneficial relationships.

But we libertarians should make this an issue by showing how destructive these avaricious bastards are to our property. To do that we need to be able to talk about how our property is abused in this jiu jitsu of using money to destroy property without writing a 1200 word essay.

Orwell obsessed over the abuse of language in politics. His “1984” novel  illustrated how one cannot think of or deal with something that does not have a name. We Libertarians need a word that allows us to identify the rackets that use our money to destroy property.  “Vandals” might work but it makes us think of kids painting graffiti or of barbarians tearing down the Roman empire. I can’t find any other word in English. “Gut Verderben” means destruction of property in German; It’s too bad that Orwell also disparaged using foreign words and of using phrases instead of single words.

Perhaps some wordsmith will emerge Who can frame the jiu jitsu that allows tugs to use our property to destroy wealth.

We could also develop a system, parallel to ESG, to designate companies that are destructive to the common weal.

But thank God that it’s hard for the SOBs to ruin my sauerkraut.