For many political theorists and thinkers, the ideas of labor and property are central to the evolution of governments or states, and henceforth, very important aspects of human life. For some writers, the development of property is a direct result of labor, and government is set up to ensure the property rights of those who own property. Some view property and labor fundamentally or naturally connected aspects of human life, while others see it as merely a social convention. Each thinker also has different opinions about how property is acquired, as well as what the limits to property acquisition are. While one writer may provide the most fair account of property, another may provide a more feasible account of property acquisition and its limits. This essay will attempt to compare and contrast the beliefs of John Locke and Karl Marx on the ideas of labor and property with their connections to the aspects of the human condition, as well as determine who holds the most feasible or fair account of property.
To begin, Locke believes that property is not a "thing", rather, it is a relationship between an individual and an item. Property is a natural condition in John Locke s state of nature, meaning it was present since the beginning. "Thus labor, in the beginning, gave a right of property, wherever anyone was pleased to employ it upon what was common, which remained a long while the far greater part, and is yet more than mankind makes use of." (Locke, 27). In order for property rights to exist, they must be recognized by other individuals through the act of mixing physical labor with nature. The most fundamental and natural forms of the property of man are "The labor of his body, and the work of his hands " (Locke, 19.) These fundamental properties, according to Locke, cannot be stripped from any man " nor could without injury take from him." (Locke, 21). By mixing nature with this fundamental form of property, or labor, man can appropriate property to himself. "His labor hath taken it out of the hands of nature, where it was common, and belonged equally to all her children, and hath hereby appropriated it to himself" (Locke, 20). Here, Locke explains that by mixing one s physical labor with, for example, an apple from a tree, one removes the apple from the common cache of apples in the tree, and the apple becomes his own personal property.
Locke believes that the law of nature also sets limits for property acquisition. "The same law of nature that does by this means give us property, does also bound that property too." (Locke, 20). According to Locke, there are three limits to how much property one can acquire. First, deals with taking so many items, that they spoil from being hoarded and not used. "Nothing was made by God for man to spoil or destroy." (Locke, 21). The second says that one should not be a glutton and leave an abundance for others to take from when one acquires their property. The third and final limit says that one should only take only as much as you yourself can use or improve upon. If any of these limits are exceeded, the productivity of everyone suffers. However, the invention of money, according to Locke, can trump these three limits. This is because goods will not spoil since they can be sold, and workers can be hired for wage labor to collect more goods than any one person alone could.
As well as collecting goods and picking fruit, man could also mix his labor with land in order to claim that land as his property. "As much land as a man tills, plants, improves, cultivates, and can use the product of, so much is his property" (Locke, 21). Since mixing labor with nature is how Locke perceives the acquisition of property, it follows then that labor and property are fundamentally and naturally connected to the aspects of human life. "Locke himself states" And thus, I think, it is very easy to conceive, without any difficulty, how labor could at first begin a title of property in the common things of nature, and how the spending it upon our uses bounded it." (Locke, 30). Lock says here that labor can be mixed with nature and create titles of property that are as natural as the labor used itself.
Marx examines these issues in a more economical sense, focusing on markets and forces of production rather than natural property rights in Locke s state of nature. Forces of production such as labor, land and technology, as well as relations of production ,or the division of labor and property rights, are key to the examination of Marx. Marx focuses on the Feudalistic era and does not believe in the Lockean state of nature. In order for Marx s markets to work, one needs goods to be able to trade or exchange. According to Marx, if you don t have goods, you can sell or trade your labor or services. Labor is a basic form of property for Marx, much like Locke. Also like Locke in some aspects, property stems from externalized labor, which is the process of laboring in order to create an object outside of yourself. Labor is a creative process for Marx, and externalization is making a craft or art form, which can be a form of self expression. Unlike Locke, this labor is a creative process, not tilling land or picking apples, therefore, the acquisition of property is different. If you pick an apple from a tree, it is not necessarily your apple, but if you weave a basket, no one can contend that it is your personal property. In a capitalist market system, you can only trade goods if you own them. Marx s reproduction of labor states that one must sustain their labor through basic human necessities, such as food and shelter, which are understood as goods or property.
To Marx, property is not a natural or fundamental aspect of human existence. In a capitalist economy, property comes about through certain social relations between the capitalist and laborer. It is a social convention to Marx, and is not natural at all, in fact one of Marx s main movements into communism abolishes all property rights. One reason Marx would like to move from our current governments into communism is because of the alienation of labor. Alienation of labor alienates the physical laborer from the object he creates. The capitalist owns the product that the laborer produces through the division of labor, and no individual worker will ever own what he creates in this system. Marx does not really delve on the evolution of property rights or property relations, he is more concerned with economic factors of production and markets.
In Marx s base superstructure model of a political economy, the forces of production (labor, technology) form the base of the political system. After the forces of production, come the relations of production, which are class inequality, property rights and the division of labor.