Does capitalism produce prosperity and development while indigenous culture leads to a life of poverty and stagnation? This question is usually addressed by one side or the other, and rarely gets a straight-up, interactive debate. So it is treat to encounter precisely such a debate about the virtues of private property and markets vs. the collective governance of Native American tribes.
John Koppisch, a reporter for Forbes magazine, ignited the debate when he published an article in Forbes magazine, “Why Are Indian Reservations So Poor? A Look at the 1%” that provoked a firestorm of criticism.
Forbes, whose promotional tagline for years was “Capitalist Tool,” has its own ideological axe to grind, of course. It amounts to this formula: more property rights = greater market development = greater prosperity and happiness for everyone. Apart from flogging this familiar bit of capitalist propaganda, one has to wonder if Forbes’ real interest in is opening up investor access to minerals and oil on Native American lands. What better way to do that than argue that capitalism will alleviate poverty on the res. Make the humanitarian, populist case that private property rights will help impoverished Indians (the very same arguments that Members of Congress made a century ago for stealing Indian lands and forcing tribes to assimilate into mainstream white society).
Koppisch wrote: “To explain the poverty of the reservations, people usually point to alcoholism, corruption or school-dropout rates, not to mention the long distances to jobs and the dusty undeveloped land that doesn’t seem good for growing much. But those are just symptoms. Prosperity is built on property rights, and reservations often have neither. They’re a demonstration of what happens when property rights are weak or non-existent.”