Private property, rights, and title

“Any free-market economy must necessarily rest on devotion to the sanctity of private property.” ~Murray Rothbard

A common charge levelled at us by our fine progressive friends is that libertarians and free-market anarchists are in favor of private property which they see as “greedy” and as morally wrong since all property should be “jointly owned”. We often hear progressives say, “yah, you got yours and fuck everyone else!”. Even some libertarians claim that all title to private property is based on “theft”. I would like to record a few thoughts on that here.

Going back to Aristotle we see that private property is more productive;

“what is common to the greatest number gets the least amount of care. Men pay most attention to what is their own; they care less for what is common; or at any rate they care for it only to the extent to which each is individually concerned. Even when there is no other cause for inattention, men are more prone to neglect their duty when they think that another is attending to it.”

In the history of the British colonization of North America we see an example of the necessity of private property. The first British settlers of America arrived in Jamestown in 1607 and found a fertile soil, seafood, wild game, and fruits of all kind.  But within six months all but 38 of the original 104 Jamestown settlers were dead, most having starved to death. So the Virginia Company sent 500 more settlers and within six months 440 of these died of starvation or disease. This was known as “the starving time“.  Historian Philip A. Bruce noted in his Economic History of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century that “The settlers did not have even a modified interest in the soil. . . . Everything produced by them went into the store, in which they had no proprietorship.”  The first British settlers practiced agricultural socialism and that was a disaster. In 1611, the British government sent Sir Thomas Dale to serve as high marshal of the colony and he saw the problem. So he gave all the men three acres of land and released them from working “for the colony” except for one month a year. And with that, the colony became a roaring success.

Besides efficiency of land use, there is the human rights aspect of private property rights. Murray Rothbard was one of the 20th centuries’ greatest defenders of property rights as a basis for human rights. He did not think that being an “anarchist” was enough. Consider, for example, “anarcho-socialism.” Here is an ideology that hates the state and that is fine but the problem is that it is an ideology that hates private property even more. In fact, these people believe that the state is the only reason private property exists. Rothbard wrote:

“They totally fail to realize that the State has always been the great enemy and invader of the rights of property. Furthermore, scorning and detesting the free market, the profit-and-loss economy, private property, and material affluence – all of which are corollaries of each other – Anarcho-Communists wrongly identify anarchism with communal living, with tribal sharing, …”

But if private property is “good”, how do we know who owns the property? What is “property”? What is a “title”?

Important widely recognized types of property are real property which is the combination of land and any improvements to or on the land, and personal property which is physical possessions belonging to a person. You can see that “property” is physical objects that a human can put to use for some purpose. Like my coffee cup is use to help write this essay. (no, really it is vital to the endeavour) A “title” is a term that means the ‘bundle of rights’ in some property. Most often title is transferred to you via a contract upon you purchasing the property from someone or some organization.

What property can be owned?

I agree with Professor Hoppe’s take on these issues, firstly that your own body is property and that it is your property. I think we all can see that self-ownership is the bedrock of human rights. You are also the private owner of all nature-given goods that you have put to use by means of your body, before any other person. Who else, if not the first user, should be their owner? Additionally, any new products you produce using your body and goods already owned by you become your property. Once you have appropriated or produced goods the ownership of these goods can be acquired only by means of a voluntary, contractual transfer of its property title.

Land is property that causes the most confusion. Someone appropriated the land originally and the title passed down from owner to owner over time. If the land has no owner then you are free to mix your efforts with the soil and appropriate it.

Many of my fine progressives friends yell that all land in America was “stolen” from the natives. This is historically false. However, there was land theft no doubt. If anyone can come forward and show his rightful title to a specific piece of property then he should be recognized as the owner of that land.

I have not really gotten to how land is “appropriated” exactly in detail, but I need a topic for tomorrow and that sounds like a good one. Besides I have to stop typing as this is already too long for what I wanted to do.

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