The Power of Property Rights

Why have property rights? Rich people like
them of course. They get to live in fine homes, drive nice cars, and enjoy all the material
comforts that property law secures. Property rights aren’t just for the rich,
however; they serve us all. By marking out who can do what with each home, car, and other
things, property rights help us live together in peace and prosperity. Property rights pervade
our social world, encouraging productive labor and discouraging waste. We all benefit from
property rights. Indeed they prove especially valuable to those who own the least. To see
why, let’s take a drive down to the beach. Want a good example of how things go wrong
without property rights? Consider a foreclosed home subject to a title dispute. When it isn’t
clear who owns something, nobody has an incentive to preserve and protect it. The result: neglect,
ruin, and waste. Property rights help us avoid conflicts over
all sorts of resources, from houses to cars to waves. Basically, even the best break provides
a certain number of rideable waves. To make matters worse, each wave basically provides
only one ride at a time. Combine lots of surfers with just a few good waves, and a conflict
over scarce resources looms. Property rights come to the rescue. Surfers have adopted customs to help them
share the waves. Basically, the rider who takes off first near the breaking part of
the wave has the exclusive right to keep riding it. But if that surfer falls or misses the
wave or gets caught in the foam, the next surfer can take over. In this way surfers
can share the waves without having them go to waste. In effect, surfers respect property
rights in waves. Indeed if one surfer takes off on another surfer, the surfer in the right
will yell, my wave. Harsher words or even physical blows might follow if the trespass
continues. Property rights in waves may not last long, but surfers take them very seriously. Classical liberal scholars take property rights
seriously too. To find out why, let’s hit the books. These days, happily, almost everyone understands
that property rights encourage economic growth. Classical liberal thinkers, however, have
an especially profound appreciation of where property rights come from and why they matter
so much. Classical liberals see property rights as
more than simply privileges created by benevolent and far-seeing politicians. Nobel Prize winning
economist Friedrich Hayek placed the origin of property rights even before history itself:
“There can be no question now that the recognition of property preceded the rise of even the
most primitive cultures, and that certainly all that we call civilization has grown up
on the basis of that spontaneous order of actions which is made possible by the delineation
of protected domains of individuals or groups.” We can hardly imagine life without property,
which Hayek elsewhere described as “the only solution men have yet discovered to the
problem of reconciling individual freedom with the absence of conflict. Law, liberty,
and property are an inseparable trinity.” As legal scholar Randy Barnett described them,
“Property rights are ‘natural’ insofar as, given the nature of human beings and the
world in which they live, they are essential for persons living in society with others
to pursue happiness, peace, and prosperity.” Granted that property rights prove vital to
human society, what should we do about inequalities in wealth? We cannot prevent such inequalities,
as philosopher Robert Nozick explained, unless we can stomach the state to “either continually
interfere to stop people from transferring resources as they wish to, or continually
(or periodically) interfere to take from some persons resources that others for some reason
choose to transfer to them.” To those who would redistribute wealth to achieve equality,
Nozick wryly observed, “Liberty upsets patterns.” At any rate, we should support a diversity
of wealth. Those capable of supporting a luxury trade drive innovation. That trickles down
to the mass market. And steadfast respect for property rights generates so much wealth
that everyone benefits. As Austrian economist Ludwig Von Mises observed, “Even the poor
man, who can call nothing his own, lives incomparably better in our society than he would in one
that would prove incapable of producing even a fraction of what is produced in our own.”
From rich to poor, from oceanside to mountaintop, property rights help us live together in peace,
prosperity, and freedom. We can all appreciate that.

73 Replies to “The Power of Property Rights

  1. the demonization of property rights is nothing more than cover for the true taproot of evil, the "legitimized" theft of property.

  2. @david52875 As I wrote earlier you're an illiterate. Your "scorecard" is irrelevant because you're not fit to judge me because you have no way to understand me. Try learning to read, getting an education and then come back to this and you'll see how profoundly ignorant and stupid you really are. You're like a flyspeck on a jet.

  3. The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land,said"This is mine,"and found people naïve enough to believe him,that man was the true founder of civil society.From how many crimes,wars,and murders,from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind,by pulling up the stakes,or filling up the ditch and crying to his fellows:Beware of listening to this impostor;you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all,and the earth itself to nobody.

  4. @CMLovejoy Yes, however, people do have a hard time understanding this simple concept. Take the average lower income person today and compare them to the equivalent caste at any time in the past. They have it much better today than is lead to believe. Take for example 100 years ago in the USA. The average poor did not own an automobile, while the rich did. 50 years ago it was the TV set. 25 years ago, the cell phone. The problem is only one of expectations.

  5. @bozolazic

    "Whenever there is in any country, uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right." Thomas Jefferson

  6. @ihatemoses Never heard that one.Thanks! If you don't know the quote that I wrote it's from Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourses on the Origin of Inequality.I had no room to give him credit.
    Some of our chiefs make the claim that the land belongs to us. It is not what the Great Spirit told me. He told me that the lands belong to Him, that no people owns the land; that I was not to forget to tell this to the white people when I met them in council.
    —Kanekuk – Kickapoo prophet

  7. Libertarians believe that their Property Rights trump every other right on this planet, including Human Rights… That's why THEY SUCK!!!

  8. @DavidDayPraise I'm not advocating taking from someone else. Instead, allow yourself to imagine what a better world we'd live in, if people valued each other, and our relationships with each other, MORE than we value our property. But we don't. Why do we only value what we can quantify? Why do we only value our material possessions? Why do we only value money & of course, THE GOD OF PROPERTY? It seems to me if we're going to survive as a species, we must learn to value each other & the earth…

  9. @CosmicFork The concept of property rights doesn't apply only to quantifiable material things and goods. It is what allows individuals to exercise ownership over oneself, ideas/creativity, fruit of labor, talents, knowledge, etc. The materials goods people claim ownership over are often the product and application of aforementioned things. Advocating property rights doesn't mean that one is being selfish.Rather, it acknowledges the fact that it is individuals with rights that constitute society.

  10. right he is, but when it comes to Arabs who have property then it is much different- then the Israelis are allowed to come and take it away from then. Why do I post this? I do so because of this disgusting American hypocrisy that serves this country like a dog and betrays its own values.

  11. @Tomislavv2 If I get you right, you want to say that the Arabs in the Westbank will have to pay for what Jews had to suffer in other Arab or Muslim countries, just because they are Arabs.
    Well, what about this. Germany as a state and society creates a fund to compensate people who had to work for Germany in WWII or were in labour or concentration camps.
    Part of the money went to the Jewish Claims Conference in New York to be distributed .Members of its staff stole it.

  12. @Jeansschwimmer If I follwow your example all Jewish people are then responsible for that crime. The same thing would happen in the Madoff-case. He is Jewish. Are alll Jewish bankers now to be held responsible?

  13. I homestead 20 acres and live off the land. One day the government comes in and tells me that land now costs $10k per acre and 20K per year. I ask why and they explain my land boundry will be protected by their courts and militias. If I choose to defend my own land they will throw me in a cage and sell it to whomever will pay their ransom. Now that person has to spend incredible money and devote a large portion of his life over-producing to pay the govt extortion. Exactly like the mafia.

  14. What if you want to build a road and my house is in the way,and i dont want to sell my house.And what if millions of people dont want to sell theyr lands or give access to them to build roads?There is some flaw with libertarian property rights.It seems libertarianism is a system that can succeed only if it hijacks the current infostructure build by the current system.That is the only flaw with libertarianism,land ownership.

  15. @ped200014 Worse. Let's say you decide to build a reservoir on your land principally for your own use. Sooner or later, somebody finds that there's an animal living there that didn't do so before, since there was no reservoir there before. Suddenly, thanks to animal protection laws, your reservoir becomes a Wetland, which you cannot use anymore for irrigation or anything else.

    This happens more often than not, and it's an extortion racket.

  16. In EVERY libertarian video there is some statement like "These rights help those with the least, the most." Yet why are most libertarians upper middle class white men? Why do see so very few poor libertarians?

  17. I often dream of living off the land but can't for this reason. I'm glad to know someone else thinks like me.
    and even when I do pay the protection money to the government they tell me what I can do with my land, I can't put up a fence, I have to mow the lawn, I can't raise my own chickens.

  18. Let give the government control of everything Because they all ready do so well with so much. Here is a thought not everyone can rich we will always have poverty.Saying that we can redistribute wealth is like saying You can redistribute intelligence.

  19. But how do I get property in the first place? Why do I need to mortgage my life away to get what should be my birthright?

  20. For some reason Libertarians seem to think that their property rights exceed all other rights, Life, Equity, Dignity, and the Human Rights of others. Well they don't. They're wrong! In actuality there are no such things as property rights until we (as a society) agree on them. It is an irreconcilable difference of view, and of life. If you think your "property rights" trump all other Human Rights you're wrong! Property is just things and things can ALWAYS be replaced, PEOPLE CAN'T BE REPLACED!

  21. You're an idiot, but that's not why you are wrong. Property rights extend to human life, your life is your property and is every bit as precious as my little plot of woodland and my business.

    The atrocities come, not when people respect property rights, but when they fail to respect the only property that everyone has a right to, their own life. Your view seems to be that property rights don't, or maybe shouldn't, extend to an individuals life because there is some better concept.

  22. Your belief that "Property Rights" extend to human life is a logical fallacy. Your reasoning that "your life is your property" assumes that life is a "commodity" that can be bought and sold to others ~ who can then rule over you. Your Libertarian concept of "Self-Ownership" is economistic reductionism to me. I don't want to live in a world where everything, (including my life), is reduced to a commodity to be bought and sold in the marketplace. Self-Rule is the true moral basis for freedom!

  23. Without property rights, how do you know that you own yourself, the food that you have eaten, or your dog. Apperently, according to you, property rights are not as good as human rights. But they are both the same. Think about it.

  24. What are you talking about, exactly? Are you referencing to something that happened in specific?

    I buy something with the legal tender of the country, and as such, I own it and it belongs to me. What more is there to say?

  25. Wow, really?

    Libertarians place right to own right on top. And because you OWN your life, and everything you mix your labour with, rights to property.

  26. Lets say me and 15 of my closest friends decide we like the way your land looks, and come to try and take it with our automatic rifles. What do?

  27. You should understand that government can never provide freedom. They can only regulate and at best provide security at the price of liberty. The constitution isn't a document granting freedoms, it's a document promising the federal government will not impede those liberties. Legal rights to land is a government invention and what do we know about governments? They cannot provide liberty, only take it away. Your thesis that legal land is freedom is big gov double-speak.

  28. You own the food because you put the effort into growing. You didn't own the water and the sun that grew the food and you don't own the soil it was grown in either. That is a statist illusion and why 99% of the population have been turned into helpless, dependant, socialistic, suburban slugs. Because they cannot homestead and are thus forced to work for wages due to goverment restriction of land. Land ownership is proxy slavery.

  29. Okay, as long as we're getting into things very few people "living off the land" have access to, let's say we also had a tank with blast shielding. And where did the relatives come from, we're they out of state? Live near you? were they living off the twenty acres you have a great deal of which is now covered by a mine field wide enough to be effective against more than a few people? Do they all have the lifetime of battle experience me and my friends have gained stealing land?

  30. property rights are a bastardization of a right to resources. it's one thing to say that one can access a river to fish in order to meet their needs and desires, it's another thing to claim a monopoly on a river and exclude other people from using it.

  31. What do you think of the argument that some redistribution is ok because the market system tends to fail at absorbing the full cost of a worker's labor for those in the lowest class?

  32. Even with that logic, one could ague that certain property is owned by the collective (i.e. the Government). In my mind, this would be no different than having a smaller collective of corporate shareholders own resources.

  33. I just saying that I think your issue is not with property rights so much as with monopolies. I'm saying that this issue is solved by acknowledging that certain things are natural monopolies and should be collectively owned by the people and administered by the Government. I was also showing how this collective ownership is similar to corporate collective ownership.

  34. My understanding is that you are saying that no one should have a right to own and have the final say over the river because then they could hoard resources. I'm saying that you still need some entity (the government) to own it so that it is taken care of.

  35. "I'm saying that you still need some entity (the government) to own it so that it is taken care of."

    i don't agree. an individual cannot claim a monopoly, or rather cannot *enforce* such a claim, without a government recognizing the supposed legitimacy of the claim in the first place.

  36. What? Objectively primitive civilizations are not ideal communities. People living largely un-contacted today continue to live to sustain themselves through hard labor like hunting with spears. You are living the good life; you have a computer. I was able to see your comment because the internet took me here at light speed by reading a series of ones and zeroes. I can assure you that is a hell of a lot better than hunting and gathering to sustain myself.

  37. Primitive cultures absolutely dealt with and deal with starvation on a regular basis. Despite averaging over 10 kids per female, these cultures rarely expanded since their mortality rate was so high.

  38. Property rights are fine to a large degree. But the whole concept has become perverted when people arbitrarily gather into their hands rents on land and such without working. It is one neighbor over the other, whoever can extract money from another in a game of social darwinism.

  39. Ironically, the wave example is an excellent example of leftist property rights. Use equates ownership.

  40. lol, HIS happyness[sic] come from HIM being PART of a happy community.

    Traits and actions of a person concerned with self, and how he fits into society as an individual. You enter and leave the world in the same way. Alone. However only a fool would argue that such a view would bring chaos, as most actions anyone takes during the course of a day are beneficial to himself AS WELL as others. Individuals cooperating for self-gain is the desired end, but is impossible if you destroy individuality

  41. We must preserve the legal framework that keeps society at bay politically by dividing it economically. In order to preserve this two class model it is essential that we destroy Democracy as quickly and as utterly as possible. 

  42. I would suggest that we go beyond the discussion of property rights. Not by negation (communists) or by confirmation (libertarians). And this wonderful example of riding a wave does it well. First, props to Professor Tom W. Bell for putting it together a witty proposition. But allow me, sir, to develop your concept. In this case of surfing the tides, it's not really property rights, but rather, access rights. And that's the key. Even if a surfer could sell or buy a wave it's not really the property of a wave that's being sold, but the access to it. And that's beautiful, we live in a world of artificial scarcity, hence the problem of property. Access goes beyond. And that could also be said for the land, the sun and even commodities. Just my 2 cents. Peace, people.

  43. This video is interesting, but the notion that something as transient as waves can embody the same principles as longterm property rights is laughable.

    The travesty of property rights is the legacy of vast fortunes made in times of war and tyranny which then seek the protection of common law to safeguard their ill-gotten status. The distribution of land ownership today is a joke.

  44. How utterly satirical… 🙂
    0:42 –> Watch the sign on the left!  It says: " *BANK OWNED  "… The result: neglect, ruin and waste." (>.<)
    "When it isn't clear who owns something nobody has an incentive to preserve and protect it…" (!?)
    I don't think so.

    That's actually a pretty much perfect example of how harmful disputes over "property rights" really are. Problems arise if people and organizations (in this case, the bank) are confronted with the incentive to own stuff for economical reasons. If legal control over a resource/ or "property" becomes an asset with which we can economically manipulate and control, then we easily get certain problems, social tensions and conflicts in consequence.

    Of course, our needs and wants are being formed in a structural context, mostly in regard to our beliefs about what we can ask for, demand and have in our social reality, but what we basically want (in any case) is access to resources and infrastructures, whenever we need and want them.
    So the most efficient way to basically get along peacefully and prosper with each other is to openly communicate… to let go and share our opportunities, our resources and infrastructures in full solidarity and mutual respect.
    We could at least imagine a society where people choose to coexist in relationships based on the principle of openness and solidarity instead.
    What would happen if this house would simply be regarded as a resource that anyone in need can make use of?
    If the resource is potentially available for everyone, then everybody would have a certain interest to preserve and protect this resource in case it is being needed or it becomes useful.
    No claims for exclusive access and usage would be questioned as long as everybody takes their responsibility to at least show some commitment in the endeavor of all to provide for everyone what they need and deeply wish for.
    If people would agree to live a life beyond economic rivalry and legal delimitation in openness and solidarity, that would mean everyone would take on the responsibility to get themselves and everyone else around them in a position where they are able to help themselves and each other to do what they really want to do.
    If nobody could make any claims to control access to a particular resource only by a reference to a "right" for "property", which they might have bought, everyone of us would hold the same responsibility to avoid social tensions, frustration and conflicts by simply giving what they can give and taking what they need.

    If there aren't enough houses to provide a safe and cozy home for everybody, everybody is likewise bound to help to build new houses, until everyone can feel respected and satisfied.
    Anyone who obviously takes on the responsibility to preserve and protect a certain infrastructure or resource is appreciated as the manager of that particular resource.

    #market #libertarian #ideology … #brainwash // scnr.

    In the "surfers"-analogy, the dear professor completely mixes up practices of #sharing and #commoning limited/ scarce or rival resources, with the idea of #property , which is in essence a legal concept, based on authoritarian structures of law enforcement, legal intervention and punishment.
    Actually, the basis for all kinds of social tensions, wars and conflicts in this world is being provided by manipulative power structures, that promise to bring us into a position to defend our claims for exclusive access to a particular resource or infrastructure.

    It's such an awkward irony to claim that we live "in peace and prosperity" because of manipulative and corrupting market relations.

    Any considerable problem that we could possibly have with our #commons , consists in our conditioning on greedy and selfish motives in economic rivalry.

    If we could only learn to get along and share what we have and have to give beyond the cowardly reference to "property rights", we'd massively increase our chances to really live in peace and prosperity.

    We could successively dissolve the harmful difference between rich & poor, the more we manage to get along beyond the idea of exclusive property and beyond the manipulative and will corrupting incentives that we allow to take over in market relations.

  45. if today if form a military government and take majority of the land and give it to my supporters and then establish property rights, and say i am doing it for peace, it is exploitation and property rights will only do the work of exploiting the majority and the poor.

  46. If we, as citizens, reach a consensus that we must respect each others Wealth by protecting it by Property Laws then we must ensure each citizen has sufficient amount of Wealth in order to make such laws applicable to them and to maintain the consensus about the existence of such laws.
    Therefore, If we agree to have Property Laws then we MUST also agree to provide 'dignified existence' to each person in the society.

    Socialisms exists for the rich because regardless of them working or not they get sufficient monthly amount of Wealth to guarantee their dignified existence and then some.

  47. The problem with property rights was explained by Henry George. Search: Georgism. The rich buy up all the scarce property and get even richer by exploiting the increased scarcity, and then exploit further by renting the land out to the poor. This scheme is super profitable, so prices are driven up by speculators, and housing bubbles occur regularly. Everyday people who happen to buy at a low are indirectly profiting on the scheme, so policy change/tax/regulations are unlikely to occur. Mass immigration becomes profitable. Poor people are forced to fund this entire scheme. Money that should've been allocated into society and thereby enriched it is instead sucked up.

  48. I’ve been struggling recently with whether I “own” my home/land. If, after decades n decades of “buying” a home n property n I hold the deed, how is it if I miss or refuse to pay my “property tax”, the whole thing can be taken from me? To my mind, this means I never “owned” it and am, instead, continuing to RENT it!

    I realize the tax goes to services!! However, unlike a failed hospital bill etc, I’m not merely fined or put in jail, but they can also take my home n land in spite of ownership.

    Can you help clarify this for me? Or is my thinking correct?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *