In Defense of Private Property
Freedom and liberty can only be defended with free speech and private property. The Greek philosopher and polymath Aristotle considered the relationship between property and freedom from the contribution that ownership makes to being a free person. You need resources to defend and uphold your freedom.
Political Posturing On Private Property?
Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders released a list of “Billionaires” on the hit list of his “Make Billionaires Pay Act,” calling out Bezos, Elon Musk and the Walton (Walmart) family. At the same time, it is hard to miss that Senator Sanders owns three houses and has sold enough intellectual property (books) to become a “millionaire.” Other politicians are jawboning on private property and the evils of landlords (property owners) expecting to be paid rent.
Abolition Of Private Property?
Recently, I gave myself the unpleasant task of reading Vicky Osterweil’s “In Defense of Looting.” It is an incoherent assemblage of words without any understanding of history or economics. It justifies revolution just to tear down the existing order without any meaningful thought put into what that would actually do to the poor and marginalized in our society.
Ariel Atkins, a BLM Chicago organizer, makes the same argument: “I don’t care if somebody decides to loot a Gucci or a Macy’s or a Nike store because that makes sure that person eats. That makes sure that person has clothes. That is reparations. Anything they want to take, take it because these businesses have insurance.”
Teen Vogue columnist Kandist Mallet has a very poor grasp on history and makes the claim, “What is more evident of the legacy of settler colonialism and it’s violence than the idea of the ownership of land?” Someone at Condé Nast should let her know part of their business model is “a portfolio of branded properties.”
All of these individuals and some powerful organizations in our society are following Karl Marx’s tired and failed ideas regarding economics, history and property.
Who Got It Right? Karl Marx or Abraham Lincoln?
In “The Communist Manifesto,” Karl Marx summarized his theory of a communist society, with this assertion that “the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.”
On the other hand, Abraham Lincoln reflects a longer, truer tradition: “Property is the fruit of labor; property is desirable; is a positive good in the world. That some should be rich shows that others may become rich and, hence, is just encouragement to industry and enterprise.”
Was Private Property Invented By Capitalist Slave Holders?
Private property is not new. In the “Code of Hammurabi” (circa 1700 BC) it says, “If a man has stolen goods from a temple, or house, he shall be put to death; and he that has received the stolen property from him shall be put to death. If a man has stolen a child, he shall be put to death.” Let’s not forget Exodus 20:15, “Thou shalt not steal,” for some additional historical context. The 10th Commandment is even more explicit: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his ass or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” Just stop the ass coveting!
A little later Aristotle, in his work “Politics,” expressed the superiority of private property by identifying four core areas — efficiency, unity, justice, and virtue — that are lacking in communal ownership of property.
Down through the centuries, from the Magna Carta to John Locke to the The US Constitution in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment, private property has been found to be a positive good for human flourishing. The confiscation of private property or government ownership of property has proven to be disastrous and not the highest good for civilization or society.
What Is Private Property?
Private property and associated property rights are the ways we allocate items, objects, resources and monetize ideas. What many people do not understand is that ‘Property’ is not only land, your house or some landlord’s apartment building. Property is also your smartphone or computer. It is your food after you bought it at the grocery store or restaurant. It is your bike and bed.
It means that individuals have the right to use, manage and care for belongings, assets and anything as they want, while excluding others from using or taking your stuff. Most people envision this as land, apartment buildings or manufacturing facilities. In order to make it more personal: Do you want someone to snatch your phone and start using it as their own? Would you want some random person to show up and start sleeping in your bed or wearing your clothes? If not, you believe in the right to private property.
Only when you can call your stuff you own (ownership) can you utilize it for creation to prosper and flourish as free people.
Private Property Creates Human Flourishing
Emeritus economics professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, Armen A. Alchian, put it this way: “The fundamental purpose of property rights, and their fundamental accomplishment, is that they eliminate destructive competition.” Instead, “well-defined and well-protected property rights replace competition by violence with competition by peaceful means.”
When individuals own and manage their own property, creativity and flourishing communities ensue. With property ownership, people can develop their assets, steward the land and expand abundance for everyone. Private property is not a zero sum game; it fosters a cycle of multiplication.
Individuals rise up out of poverty and subsistence to the middle class and ownership of assets. The biggest asset is human ingenuity and drive and also includes an entire spectrum from: seeds; chickens; goats; cows; weaving looms; houses; mobile phones; farms; factories; software code; stocks; bonds; cryptocurrency; life insurance; private equity; intellectual property; and even education.
The converse is true when governments control property. Silas Strawn, of Winston & Strawn fame summed it up best in a humorous story explaining different political systems in an address to the Economic Club of Chicago on November 29, 1935:
- Socialism: You have two cows. The government takes one and gives it to your neighbour.
- Communism: You have two cows. You give them to the government, and the government then gives you some milk.
- Fascism: You have two cows. You give them to the government, and the government then sells you some milk.
- Nazism: You have two cows. The government takes both and shoots you.
- Capitalism: You have two cows. You sell one and buy a bull (and get more cows).
Do You Own Yourself Without Private Property?
Most importantly, you are your own private property. In the word Ownership, being a part of your own self or oneness, being made part of, is derived in the word itself.
The concept of ownership of private property is fundamental to a free society. There is no personal or political freedom without freedom of one’s property.
Your private property encompasses:
- Your person;
- Your body;
- To eat;
- To have and to hold;
- To associate or not associate;
- To trade or not to trade;
- To travel;
- and Your ability to live.
Free societies put up a fence around ownership of you by another person, and do not let you infringe on other people’s ownership of themselves.
Governments that disregard and disrespect private property also tend to violate human rights. With no PRIVATE PROPERTY the government has a claim to YOUR body.
There is no personal or political freedom without freedom of one’s property.
Property Rights Are Human Rights
Economist Murray Rothbard went so far as to demonstrate that property rights are human rights:
“Much is heard these days of the distinction between human rights and property rights, and many who claim to champion the one turn with scorn upon any defender of the other. They fail to see that property rights, far from being in conflict, are in fact the most basic of all human rights.
The human right of every man to his own life implies the right to find and transform resources: to produce that which sustains and advances life. That product is a man’s property. That is why property rights are foremost among human rights and why any loss of one endangers the others.”
Private Property Is The Best Way To Raise People From Poverty
Take the virtuous cycle of Lending Circles, sometimes called Microfinance in Africa, Asia and South America. A group of people pool their savings over a period of time. Each person gets the opportunity for capital to invest in a goat, small business, farm, education for a child or other projects that create additional capital. Those projects create income, wealth and assets that help to educate children, hire teachers, hire people that are preparing food, hire construction workers to build buildings, etc. The cycle lifts the community up out of poverty and into clean water, medicines and environmental care.
Disclaimer: Opinions are those of Michael Flight individually and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or viewpoints of Liberty Real Estate Fund, Liberty Equity Management and Concordia Realty Corporation.