Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Private Property is like Ketchup

The classic route to staggering wealth begins with the assumption of a huge mountain of debt. I like to use the same technique in writing essays, beginning with some peculiar sentence that makes no sense at all on its face and saddles me with an obligation to explain my way out of a fix I've willingly put myself into. The best example I know of this sort of thing and the inspiration of my title is the first sentence of one of Levi-Strauss’ books: “Totemism is like hysteria.”

If you haven’t already guessed, private property is like ketchup because both are homely items, which, though far too familiar to be taken much note of, would be sensational inventions were they to appear for the first time in the year 2006. One can easily imagine the rapturous reception the zesty new condiment would earn on the cooking shows. Similarly, the discovery of a way to ensure that cars get washed and shops get opened on time would amaze and delight the public. It’s too late to experience either frisson now, except, perhaps, to the extent that the disappearance of a thing rhymes sadly with the memory of its debut. Of course ketchup isn’t actually going away. Private property, on the other hand, is under serious attack as corporate capitalism, at last poised to fulfill the dream of Henri Saint-Simon, pursues the Wal-Mart route to socialism.

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