"Govern me harder, daddy!"
In the year 1499, the greatest empire on the planet built cities in the clouds.
Spanning more than 4,000km over some of the steepest and most unforgiving terrain imaginable, the Inca were prosperous and wealthy in a way that most other empires could only dream of.
From his seat in the empire’s capital city Cuzco, the king Huyana Copec—who held the title of Sapa Inca—ruled over millions of citizens with ease, despite his people being spread the entire length of the continent. And perhaps most impressively, he achieved this despite the complete absence of iron, horses, the wheel, or even any kind of written language at all.
To the empire, its citizens were its most prized asset. And to reflect this, each Incan citizen was provided with everything they needed to thrive.
When an Inca couple became married, the empire would gift them a house, as well as a parcel of land, so that they might have shelter and the ability to grow food. They would also be given tools to work the land, and seeds to grow crops or fruit trees.
Upon the birth of a child, more land would be given to assist the couple in providing for their growing family. Llamas were also given to ensure a steady supply of manure to enrich the soil, and as a source of fleece and meat.
Personal ownership was an alien concept in Incan society. It was simply not necessary.
Any uneaten food from a family’s garden, or unused household resources, were all handed over to the state. Not only to guarantee a steady stream of supplies for the empire of to grow, but also so that no citizen would ever go hungry, or want for life’s necessities.
Food, healthcare, shelter, and spiritual nourishment were considered to be human rights. And there was an expectation that these would all be provided by the empire.
This may all be ancient history, though I’m sure you’ve heard people arguing we should all be living within a similar system today.
Whether you call it state socialism, communism, or collective ownership, on paper it sounds like a fantastic idea to own no property, and have all your worldly needs met. And because of this, these philosophies are gaining tremendous amounts of steam around the world.
Politicians like Jeremy Corbyn, Andrew Yang, and Yong Hye-in have been pushing for a Universal Basic Income for years. And let’s not forget the World Economic Forum’s founder Klaus Schwab—a man who resembles a Bond villain crossed with a hairless mole rat—who believes that governments should own our housing, clothing, and cooking equipment, and loan these items to us when we need them.
Even the Pope has spoken about how property should be considered a “secondary natural right”, suggesting that if someone is experiencing lack, it’s the direct result of another hoarding more than they need. In my opinion, a tad hypocritical coming from a guy who heads an organisation that has likely accumulated more land, gold, and wealth than any other on Earth.
These leaders are being praised as visionaries. Mostly, by people who believe they will usher us into a utopian society similar to that enjoyed by the Incan people.
However, beneath the apparent perfection of the Inca economy lurks grim reality.
In exchange for an Incan citizen’s earthly needs being met by the state, each member of society was expected to pay a price. A price that could only be satisfied by the sweat of their brow.
They called this system the mit’a.
Men of able body could be drafted to serve in Huyana Copec’s army, or forced to toil in the construction of the empire’s temples and roadways. A woman might be conscripted to labour in the manufacture of cloth, or the drying and preservation of foodstuffs.
In Inca society, taking part in the mit’a wasn’t a suggestion. Instead, it was an obligation.
One of the three core laws of the Incan empire was Ama Quella, which simply meant “do not be lazy”. And to refuse the mit’a was to contravene this one of the empire’s holiest laws, which was considered a transgression against the gods themselves.
The Inca didn’t believe in imprisonment; instead, they adhered to the philosophy that crime should be severely punished so as to be an example for all society. Stoning, hanging, and brutal mutilation were common penalties, for misconduct such as adultery.
Collective ownership of property was also strictly enforced. Officials of the empire would regularly conduct random checks of homes, to certify that nobody was in custody of more than their allowed share.
If a household was found to have more than ten animals or to be hoarding food, or an individual was discovered to be in the possession of gold or silver, terrible penalties could be expected. A thief might have his hands and feet cut off, and a liar could be pushed from a cliff.
Punishments were sometimes also collective in nature. The crime of one citizen could result in their household being exiled, or in more serious cases, an entire village could be cut off from the rest of society.
Now, I’m not suggesting for a moment that if our society became one of collective socialism that people would be killed for being discovered with an extra portion of food. But considering there are people alive today who remember this exact practice happening under Mao Zedong as recently as sixty years ago, I wouldn’t say it’s out of the realm of possibility.
In Inca society, there were of course some who were exempt from the harshest laws of the land. And you don’t have to be a savant to guess who were the beneficiaries.
Nobles, state officials, and of course the royal family, weren’t required to take part in the mit’a, and were excused from collective ownership laws. This meant the elite class of Incan citizens were also immune from certain punishments normal people lived in fear of.
In short, those who wrote the rules didn’t have to follow them. And you don’t have to look very hard to know that this same mentality still applies today.
Self-help guru Tony Robbins regularly flies privately on his 150-passenger Boeing 737, while pontificating that individuals should eat less meat to reduce their carbon output.
Or how about Leonardo DiCaprio? He passionately speaks about how climate change is “the most urgent threat facing our entire species”, yet gallivants around the world on the largest yacht ever manufactured in Britain, that puts out as much carbon per kilometre as almost six hundred cars.
When it comes to the elites of our world, it’s almost always a case of “One rule for thee, and another for me.”
Despite evidence of collective ownership and centralised power almost always leading to corruption, coercion, and control, there are normal people alive today who are fighting tooth and nail to bring about this kind of society.
They believe that when our assets, money, and property are in the hands of an all-encompassing social state, our resources will be fairly shared, and we’ll find ourselves to be living in a utopia without work, worry, or wealth inequality.
And they are under the impression that we’ll achieve this by giving our governments an immense amount of power and control, beyond anything we’ve seen in modern history.
I can almost hear their cries of pleasure now:
“Govern me harder, daddy!”
But it’s these same people who know nothing—or very little at best—about what history teaches us about centralised power and control. And almost without fail, it never results in the average person having more sovereignty.
Having said that, it’s my strong belief that all members of a society should be taken care of.
Effective social support systems, welfare, and healthcare-for-all must be things that a wealthy nation provides for its people. Because the simple fact is that not all of us are born with equal opportunity, ability, or competence.
But there are people who argue that it’s impossible for such a system to exist in a capitalist society. However, that’s demonstrably untrue.
This exact system of support for all citizens exists today in Iceland, the nation I call home. A nation that provides for the needs of all who can’t provide for themselves, while also thriving because of capitalism.
But apparently, this system isn’t good enough. Instead, we will become happy, when we all own nothing.
The next time you hear people promoting the virtues of state socialism, collective ownership, and even Universal Basic Income, just remember that those ideals go hand-in-hand with a government that would wield absolute control over your existence.
The likely end result of such a system is summed up in the immortal words of Sir John Dalberg-Acton:
“Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
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