Private Property in Society

There has been a lot of back and forth lately between libertarian supporters of property rights and those who call themselves libertarian (or even anarchist) who think that no one may “own” anything. And so, this post was born in my mind to address a few aspects of the nature of private property and society.

Is there any social problem which, at its core, is not produced by a disrespect for the inviolability of property interests? Wars, inner-city gang conflicts, environmental pollution, the curricula of government schools, the “war on drugs,” restrictions on free expression, affirmative action programs, monetary inflation, same-sex marriages, realty, eminent domain, taxation, gun control, displaying the “Ten Commandments,” violent crime, rent control, terrorism, government surveillance of telephone and computer communications, zoning laws and urban planning, prayer in schools, government regulation of economic activity, . . . the list goes on and on.

In each such instance, conflicts are created and maintained by government policies and practices that forcibly deprive a property owner of decision making control over something he or she owns. Whether the ownership interest is in oneself, or in those external resources that a person requires in order to promote his or her interests or to otherwise express one’s purpose in life, the state is inevitably at war with property owners. ~ Law Prof. Butler Shaffer

One of the problems that arise is that most people don’t understand the definition of ownership in the first place. Ownership means that you have total control over the use of a thing. You may use it, give it away, leave it to whomever you choose when you die, or exercise control over the property for any other purpose. In this meaning of ownership we see that every state that has ever existed was socialistic to some degree or the other.  No matter what form the state’s government took, the state claimed the rightful authority to control the individual’s property anytime it saw fit to do so.

The communist system is based on the premise that the state owns all productive assets and that there is no private ownership at all. Other socialist systems nationalized only certain tools of production and communication, at least openly, but all socialist systems asserted the right of the state to take anything at any time from any subject under its rule. Fascism is a socialistic system in which title to property remains in private hands, but control is exercised by the state and always remember that control is ownership. In reality, the modern U.S. is not all that unlike the fascist systems of the past.

The question of how property is to be owned and controlled and who has this control is the most fundamental question we must address because the answer tells us whether the state owns us and we are slaves, or if we own ourselves as free men and women. We hear many claims that the communist regimes of the U.S.S.R. were the polar opposite of the fascist Nazi regime and most people do think of these two regimes as polar opposites;  but they were exactly the same in that the state claimed total control over the lives and property of every single subject within its geographic borders. Both systems thought that no one could exist outside of the state. These two states were both extreme examples of the totalitarian state — modern real world examples of dystopia.

All political systems are wars against the private ownership of property but most desire to hide that fact and so build up myths that make it appear like the people are able to “own” property and personal items. The state does this by excluding property rights from almost every political argument or policy. For example, if a company pollutes a river and thus harms people downstream, the company will face sanctions for breaking the law of the state and harming the environment, but in a just society it would be the owners of property downstream that would bring suit against the company for damages to their righfully owned property.

Ludwig von Mises once wrote that private ownership of the means of production is the fundamental institution of the market economy. He wrote that private ownership was the institution that characterizes the market economy and if it was absent then there could be no question of a market economy. The U.S. is a country that pretends to be a market economy but, in fact, is a crony-capitalist or corporatist economy.

We could go down a list of “social” problems and see that each one is easily solved if there is private ownership of all things, but becomes intractable if the matter rests in the hands of the state. One of the most important examples is the difference between a crime committed against a victim like murder, rape, assault and so forth and a “victim-less crime” like drug use, prostitution, gambling and so on.  Victim-less crimes are an assault against the property rights and liberty of the people. I have every right in the world to bet my money on a pony if I chose to do so. The criminalization of any voluntary action is a violation of individual property interests.

Should prayer be taught in schools? What about the new Common Core State Standards for Math and Language? If there were no government schools and all education was a private mater then there would be no controversy at all. It would be a matter of the family’s choice on how and were to have their children educated.

We should all know about the economic problem often called “the tragedy of the commons” were “public” property is mismanaged and overused while private property is maintained and used as wisely as the owner can. The state can not manage anything as well as the highly interested private owner can, nor can the minions of the state even have access to the vast array of information that is available. What over 300 million Americans know by daily observation and experience is not available to a relatively small, finite bureaucracy in the capital.

Individual liberty and social order are the two sides of the same coin. Individual liberty can not give rise to the voluntary and mutually beneficial division of labor that leads to social order and stability without the basis of private property.  If “everyone owns a thing” then in reality no one owns it, but in fact the criminal gang called the state does. The modern Americans who call themselves “liberal” (but are anything but that) love to claim that they are working for “social justice” by using the state to impose their vision upon the rest of us by force, fraud and intimidation. In reality, they are just making all of use poorer than we would otherwise be as they make themselves feel good. As the wag once said, it is easy to be very generous with other people’s money.

6a00d83452719d69e2014e86055c29970d-800wiWe have the situation were there are “things” and “land” on this earth that have economic value because people need or desire them. We have far more needs and desires than we do things, so there must be some way to balance out the needs and desires of the many — a hard task for anyone or any group to do. The way to do it is to let the free market and private property sort out the needs and desires via the free economy where the price signal will properly ration these “things”. It is only through the peaceful market rather than by the force of the state’s guns that we may achieve the maximum peace, prosperity, and pleasure in this world.

If you find someone who claims to be an “anarchist” or a “libertarian” who is against private ownership, then you have found one who is deluded or untruthful. There is no freedom without private ownership of property. Maximum liberty is when there is no state at all and all property is in the hands of individuals or groups of individuals.

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