Private property and Christian ethics

September 21, 2010

I remember a few years ago, when everyone was still reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad, and telling us all how simple and easy it is to be “financially secure” (which is a middle-class concept for rich). One story really struck me back then. Apparently (and I haven’t read the book, so I might be wrong, although this wouldn’t change my argument later on) the author suggest that you should buy at least 4 properties: One for yourself to live in, and three to rent out when you are retired, so that you can live from the money you receive. Now, I’m no economist, but my simple logic told me that this argument was seriously flawed: Because if I need three properties which other people rent to be financially secure, then only 25% of the world can ever be financially secure, and the rest will for all eternity struggle to make ends meet, since they need to pay rent for the house they live in every month.

Rich Dad, Poor Dad isn’t my issue, and if I missed the finer nuances of the argument, so be it, but this do bring me to what I would like to write. I have some serious ethical questions with the whole private property industry. If a small amount of people own a significant amount of the residential market, and they rent them out, then a significant amount of people are struggling each month to keep a small amount of people rich. What’s more (and here the economists surely need to correct me if my logic fails me) is that my simple logic tells me that the fact that a small number of people who own a significant amount of property is pushing the prices of property higher. If the number of buyers in the market decreases, because only those buying for themselves are competing for the prices, then prices can be normalized. Furthermore, if owning a house meant that only you yourself are living in it, then other controlling methods can also be incorporated in order that the price of the place I live in doesn’t cost me unnecessarily much.

These suggestions might not be in line with a “free market” (although by now being critical of free market economics should be acceptable), but as a Christian ethicist I have a few serious questions. If Christians confess a God (in whichever way you understand the term “God”) which created everybody as equals, and which watches over all of creation, then we have to critique systems which treat some as less human than others, which doesn’t watch over a large part of society, and make it impossible for them to watch over themselves. We have to deliver this critique well thought through but with everything we have!

We will have to create a society where these difficult questions is asked not only professional Christian theologians and ethicists, but thinking Christians business women and men, and all those part of our public society which identify with the tradition which claim to reach back for their ethical reflection to the teachings of Jesus from Nazareth, those who interpreted his words and ideas, and the Jewish text and its interpretation. And not only ask these questions of others, but critically consider our own participation in this system, and answer for that.


One Response to “Private property and Christian ethics”

  1. Shannon Says:

    Interesting. I’m not sure your logic bears out that the price of property is driven up by people owning in order to lease, and I’m curious as to what sort of controls you have in mind to keep prices normalized, as you say. I also think you have a logical fallacy in suggesting that all renters are struggling. Many rent because their jobs make them transient; they don’t want to pay for the upkeep of a house; and renting gives them much greater mobility on short notice (30 days as opposed to however long it takes to sell a house, which is dependent on fluctuating housing prices and you may not even get what you paid for it). There’s a reason Hollywood makes comedies about houses as money pits.

    Furthermore those who buy land in quantity may actually drive down the cost because, having greater assets, they’re able to negotiate lower prices and get better financing, savings that they should, presumably, pass on to their tenants.

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