Introduction to Political Theory

(Marvins-Underground-K-12) #1
movement from smallholdings to large estates, with smallholders (serfs) forced to
hire out their labour for a daily wage, thus becoming wage labourers. The creation
of a class of rural wage labourers presaged the development of an urban working
class with the industrialisation of the eighteenth and (especially) the nineteenth
centuries. The risks of starvation were significantly greater for the wage labourers
than for their earlier counterparts, the serfs.
Christian theology, Locke argued, did not strictly require common ownership,
but rather the promotion of the common good, and capitalism, through its capacity
to generate wealth, did indeed promote it (Locke, 1988: 291). Locke’s starting point
for a defence of capitalism is his account of how we go from common ownership
to private ownership: if a person mixes his labour with something external to
himself then he acquires rights in that thing. Mixing one’s labour is sufficient to
establish ownership so long as two ‘provisos’ are satisfied:

  • Sufficiency proviso There must be ‘enough and as good left for others’ (Locke,
    1988: 288).

  • Spoilage proviso There must be no wasting away of the product (Locke, 1988:

In practice these two provisos are easily met because of the development of wage
labour and money (Locke, 1988: 293). Wage labour is premised upon the notion
of having property rights in your own body – rights which you cannot alienate,
that is, you cannot sell your body – but the product of the use (labour) of your
body can be sold, such that your labour becomes a commodity which is hired out.
Wage labour is important for Locke because it enables the buyer of labour to
say to the potential seller of labour (wage labourer) that you can acquire sufficient
goods to preserve yourself if you sell your labour to me. If you do not, you(not
me) are violating your duty to God to preserve yourself. Crucially – and of great
significance for Marx – that labour does not create rights for the labourer in the
product, since the labour which the labourer sells to the buyer is an extension of
the buyer’s body; Locke argued that ‘the turfs my servant has cut are myturfs’
(Locke, 1988: 289). Wage labour, therefore, satisfies the sufficiency proviso. Money
deals with the spoilage proviso – a person’s property can be held in this abstract
form and thus will not ‘spoil’, unlike, say, crops, which rot, or animals, that die.
Nozick draws heavily on Locke’s acquisition argument, but drops its theological
basis. He begins with the assumption of self-ownership, that is, you own your body,
and all that is associated with it – brain states, genetic make-up and so on, but this
is no longer grounded in God’s rights as creator. He then adopts Locke’s mixed
labour device, but he alters the provisos:

  • Sufficiency proviso Locke was worried that there would come a point in the
    development of capitalism where some people really did not have enough to
    survive on, even with the possibility of wage labour. Nozick is not so concerned:
    so long as everyone is better offafter appropriation then that appropriation is
    just (Nozick, 1974: 175–6).

  • Spoilage proviso Nozick is not worried about ‘spoilage’, but he does insist that
    a person cannot acquire a monopoly control over certain goods, such as a water
    supply (Nozick, 1974: 180–1).

86 Part 1 Classical ideas

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