An Argument Against Property Rights
Fuck private property. The existence of private property rights is explicitly antithetical to achieving anything intended for the public good. Assigning ownership over property (i.e., land, technology, or ideas) guarantees a system of exploitation between those who control those resources, and those who do not. it creates a system where the rights holder can charge others for access to the things which they own. Even the way we have conceived of private property rights is flawed, because we allow non-human entities such as corporations and trusts to have ownership over certain things — such as land or water, but we deny those rights to plants, animals, and entire ecosystems who rely on those very same things.
For example, since starting my job with the Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA), I have been participating in a joint-effort between multiple environmental NGOs and lawyers where we are trying to have a massive irrigation expansion project reviewed for its environmental impacts. We had another meeting this afternoon to discuss next steps, and one of the major problems we are coming up against is that Irrigation Districts (IDs) in Alberta own water licenses issued by the Alberta Government (GOA) under the Water Act. This means that the IDs have priority over the use of the water allocated under their license — to the detriment of the public (i.e., drinking water) or environmental needs. In drought years, Albertans literally rely on the goodwill of IDs to ensure that we are supplied with adequate drinking water, but what about aquatic and riparian ecosystems?
Water licenses (and therefore water rights) are also governed by a “first in time, first in right” principle, which means that in times of water scarcity, the licenses issued furthest back in time have priority water allocations over newer licenses. This means that even in the event that we could allocate water (under a license) for ecosystem services, in times of water scarcity, those needs would be superseded by irrigators who have held their licenses since the inception of the Water Act. This provides a picture of a dystopian future where Albertans are literally dying of thirst while our water is hoarded for the irrigation of high-value crops such as potatoes and soybeans which could be sold for a profit.
Looking beyond Alberta’s borders more generally, this is the same system that results in the wealthy buying up real estate as financial investments while millions remain unhoused. It’s why important academic research remains hidden from the public behind paywalls, and it’s what continues to hamper our global response to the Covid-19 pandemic as Pfizer or Moderna safeguard their rights to vaccine licenses and production.
Capitalism would not exist and could not continue to function without the ownership of private property. This means that if we — as a society, are ever going to truly address our systemic issues, we will need to find a way to move beyond this archaic system of ownership to meet our collective needs.