Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Liberty depends on individual ownership of property

Jean Jacques Rousseau believed that before civilization corrupted mankind, there was no private property.

Numerous philosophers and political movements have declared private property to be the bane of human welfare.

Balderdash! Every society – advanced or “primitive” that I’m aware of had private property. I suspect that the existence of private property is at least as old as our species.

Try to take something from someone who doesn't believe in Private Property

What about truly Communist societies that have abolished private property? Wellll, if they don’t have any private property, then anyone ought to be able to use any asset or piece of property, right? Head over to the Democratic People’s Republic of Whatever, where Private Property has “been abolished” and try to take one of their airliners for the weekend. If you aren’t immediately shot for attempted theft, you will be told that the 747 belongs to the People of the Democratic People’s Republic of Whatever.

In other words, the airliner is private property. Private to the Democratic People’s Republic.

The nature of property
What we call "property" is nothing but the product of labor that has not yet been consumed, destroyed, or lost. If my right to the product of my labor is as fundamental as my right to my person (see previous post "Who owns you labor?"), and property is nothing other than the product of labor which can be consumed, traded, saved, or invested, then my right to my property is no less important than my right to myself, my mind, and my body.

There has been an evolution of what kind of thing has rights. Recognition that rights adhere to individuals rather than to abstractions like "groups", "tribes", or "communities", one of my basic principles, is only a few thousand years old and revolutionary in human thinking. Absent this fundamental principle, human dignity and human equality are meaningless.

The evolution of the social unit: who can own property
Hunter-gatherer troop Alpha may share tools, food, women, and shelters freely among themselves, but if an outsider tries to participate in the communal meal or make off with one of the communal weapons, he will promptly be informed that the food or weapon belongs to troop Alpha. It is private property.

That’s different, you may say, from the what private property means in 21st century America. Really? How does troop Alpha’s joint ownership of tools differ from a married couple’s joint ownership of a house or bank account?

The variations are not in whether a society has or does not have private property – they all have it – the variations rather are in the privates: what is the fundamental unit of the society.

In Communist countries, the fundamental unit of society is the State. Individuals are merely the components that make up the State. All property (and all humans) belong to the State, whether the state has a formal structure or is simply the aggregate of all the ants in the anthill.

For hunter-gatherers the fundamental unit of society is the troop, a collection of a few families combined for mutual protection and support.

In many societies, the fundamental unit is the Family. All property and all individuals belong to one family or another. Rights are held by and responsibilities adhere to the family.

In a Liberal society, the fundamental unit is the individual person. Rights are held by and responsibilities adhere to the individual. Individuals exist before the state, not for the state. The state is created by individuals to protect individual liberties. " secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." - Jefferson et al.

Recognition that individuals have the individual, private right to control, enjoy, use, consume, or dispose of - in short, to "own" - the products of their labor - property - is a major advance in human dignity, fundamental to increasing human wealth and welfare, and central to any meaningful individual liberty.

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