Archive for Monday, October 8, 2012


Everyday LIfe: When you get what’s yours, just what exactly do you have?

October 8, 2012


Somehow — maybe the election season has something to do with it — this question keeps going through my head: When you get what’s yours, just what exactly do you have?

A lot of the political rhetoric seems to be about who has what and whether they should keep it or share it, whether they deserve it, whether someone else should have at least some of it, whether their having it is fair or unfair, and whether in any sense the people who have stuff can honestly say, “It’s mine! You had nothing to do with it!”

Consider the chair I’m sitting on. I guess it’s mine because I paid for it, I sit on it when I’m at my desk, and if it disappeared without my knowledge, I’d call the police. And, oh yes, I have a desk. I would guess more than half the people in the world don’t have desks, much less quasi-ergonomic chairs, but I have both.

In fact, I have a lot of stuff. But I keep coming back to this question: In what sense is it mine? I didn’t make any of it. Well, I do make dinner, but then we eat it and it’s gone. The stuff around me as I’m writing this — I didn’t make any of it.

And who exactly made it anyway? My ergonomic chair was Custom Made for Office Depot. (I know that because I just looked.) So I guess some business made it and sold it to Office Depot.

But this isn’t entirely accurate. Some factory, owned by the business that sold the chair to Office Depot, produced it. The people who owned the business that owned the factory didn’t make the chair; the people working in the factory did, or at least, some of the people working in the factory made this particular chair.

And we all know that the people whose hands actually operated the machines that were used to make this chair got to see very little of whatever money we paid for it. The people who owned the factory saw a lot more of our money because that’s how capitalism works: Owners provide materials and opportunity for other people to produce stuff that the owners sell for a profit.

I personally have no problem with this unless those owners forget that they didn’t do it on their own. But, unfortunately, they often do. Which leads to the question: In what sense is the factory theirs? In what sense, given the long-term inevitability and short-term unpredictability of death, can we truly own anything?

Folks, we are inescapably in this together. Whatever situation it is we are in — and I’m pretty sure that we have no idea of what this situation is, even though we think we do — we are in it together. Anything we have we only have for a little while. Including and especially our lives. Can we manage to remember this for more than five minutes?

— Judith Roitman can be reached at


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 6 months ago

Judith, you need to go to a re-education camp where you'll be forced to read lots of Ayn Rand and Mises and Friedman, et al in order to learn that the abstract notions of "property" and "greed" are the basis for all civilized thought.

thelonious 5 years, 6 months ago

To Just Another Bozo:

As for Ayn Rand, her philospohy essentially says that if the "producers" went on strike and quit producing, "non-producers" would have nothing and society would collapse. The only problem is, under the same market-based economic theories by which she has arrived at this conclusion, if the "producers" did go on strike and refuse to "produce", some of the "non-producers", now given the chance, would step in to fill the demand, probably for less money - maybe our current crop of "producers" is just spoiled and asking too high a price (return), or maybe they are simply too full of themsleves. Her theory collapses on itself.

Placing everyone automatically into "producer" or "consumer", "job-creator" or "employee", "productive member of society" or "welfare recipient", or any of a number of black/white categories is not only inaccurate, it is offensive. Each individuals' status as a member of any of these various classifications is typically mixed, and fluid. One point of the article was that these owners or "job-creators", if you prefer, have not accomplished their feats alone - as an example, only an idiot would argue that Patton alone pushed back the Germans during WW2. Patton led a lot of troops who collectively accomplished that mission. Business owners or "job-creators", if you will, ideally lead large groups of people who through their collective efforts, working together, create value in the marketplace. For this, the owners are amply rewarded. But everyone helping them should be rewared as well.

A lot of every individual's life is based on time and circumstances beyond their control - if we recognize that, we see that we are, indeed, all in this together, whatever our status or situation at the current moment, because in a different moment, everything could change. And probably will.

5 years, 6 months ago

If you don't truly own the chair, why would you call the police if it was missing?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 6 months ago

So, if the police never find the chair and return it, who owns it then?

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