Point of Information: Ownership of Resources (Updated)

Can someone explain to me the philosophical basis for the ownership of resources that’s abroad in the land these days?

I can understand a Lockean view in which labor grants a right to property—if you discover it and work to dig it out of the ground, you have a right to it. Under that view British, American, and Dutch oil companies would own Middle Eastern oil.

I can also understand the more collectivist notion that people have a right to the resources that are in the places where they live. That would seem to be the assertion that’s being made by the people who live in the four gas-rich Bolivian provinces who appear to be acting to secede from the rest of Bolivia in order to secure those rights.

What right do the Bolivians of the other provinces have to those resources? For that matter what right do the people of Iraq have to the oil that’s taken from areas of the south and north of the country?

The idea doesn’t seem to me to be a Marxist one. Wouldn’t Marx have argued that the resources belong to the working class as a whole rather than the more nationalistic view that the resources belong to the state? I’d appreciate somebody setting me straight on this.


Jeff Medcalf quite rightly points out that I’ve left out the notion of property in which whoever is able to secure and protect it has a right to it i.e. the idea that might makes right. I’d intended to include that but it somehow eluded me when I was actually typing out my thoughts.

4 comments… add one
  • You apparently neglect that some people take the view that might makes right, and that therefore they have a right to the resources because they can take them.

  • Also consider the case of off-shore resources and the current controversy on the Law of the Sea treaty.

  • Exactly, Andy. The Law of the Sea Treaty/Convention is a great case in point. So, what’s the theory? That the seas belong to humanity as a whole and, consequently, so do the resources? As I’ve written before sounds like a tragedy of the commons in the making.

  • In the case of internationalist efforts, there is some decoding involved. For the internationalists, all being statists so far as I can tell, terms like “humanity as a whole” and “the people” all mean, quite literally, the State, and more specifically, the State in the form of a transnational, progressive government. So, in one sense, such theories arise from a modified form of Lenin-style communism, and in another sense, they go well beyond that. I think that the basic idea is communitarian, but with the community controlled by an elite or vanguard (they, themselves, of course) who have a right to control the use of the property for the betterment of “the people” (remember your secret decoder ring) simply because they think the right way.

    This whole ball of wax is, in fact, one of the reasons why I am so distrustful of multi-lateral treaties and actions these days. I’d rather the US go it alone, frankly, than become a subject nation in the thrall of the (largely European, and entirely Leftist and anti-Enlightenment) self-selected internationalist elite.

Leave a Comment