Property Rights -- Real Rights Solve Real Problems

Want to end things like discrimination and promote freedom at the same time? Get government out of the regulation of private property...

By Gord Gekko
web posted September 1996

Imagine a world where property exists, except not how it exists now, but rather that you are the property. Before capitalism, humanity was basically the property of a few nobles – to do with what they pleased. The concept of private property was non-existent, it all belonged ultimately to a king or queen and you worked until death to enrich that divinely chosen parasite.

The era of capitalism put an end to that. Instead of a person being owned by a ruler, or later by a state, a human being was master of their own course – free to make their own way in the world without roadblocks imposed by government. Well, while that laissez-faire ideal didn’t last long, effectively gone by the end of the last century, it is still exists to a degree and can exist again if we, as free people, decide to stop the government from regulating our property.

Let me first lay out my position on the meaning of property rights, since the definition changes depending to whom you are talking to. Property rights are as important as political rights – indeed, they are the same thing in reality, but for convenience sake I will divide the concept of rights into political and economic. Property is always produced or owned by people and is needed by people to live their lives. If these people do not own the efforts of their production, they in fact do not own their own lives – turning everyone into slaves. Whoever controls this production or property then decides who effectively lives and dies, which is what happens in statist or collectivist regimes.

Of course, the right to property does not mean you that will simply be granted possession of property. Rights are an action -- the right to property simply means that if you earn that property that you have the right to keep it and dispose of it in any manner you wish.

Property then becomes the manifestation of a human being’s productive intellect. In the free market, a human being who makes the correct decisions will prosper while those who make incorrect decisions will not. Property is the very symbol of a person's freedom. The right to own property is as well. Any action against the right to property is an attack on the very concept of freedom. Some will argue that in a democratic society there is a need to regulate how human beings use property – to protect others from someone who will use that property in a manner that society deems to be incorrect. That premise is completely wrong. We cannot promote freedom by limiting freedom.

"Just as man can’t exist without his body, so no rights can exist without the right to translate one’s rights into reality – to think, to work and to keep the results – which means right of property. The modern mystics of muscle who offer you the fraudulent alternative of "human rights" versus "property rights," as if one could exist without the other, are making a last, grotesque attempt to revive the doctrine of soul versus body…The doctrine that "human rights" are superior to "property rights" simply means that some human beings have the right to make property out of others…"
Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

So a real world application of Gord’s thesis? Take anti-discrimination laws. Our governments in Canada have made a wide range of discriminatory behaviors illegal. We are not allowed to discriminate on the basis of race, gender, et. al. Laudable as the goal of eliminating discrimination is, these laws have done nothing to eliminate discrimination. That cancer is as virulent today as it was when these laws were passed, only they are now less visible because the behavior is hidden. If a land-lord does not want to rent to a black, then anti-discrimination laws be damned, that black will not be renting.

There is no economic incentive for racism to disappear. With laws imposing behavior on someone, what lesson is learned? None. Only by removing these anti-property rights laws will discrimination disappear.

Imagine a world where property rights were full and complete. Fred of Fred’s Sports Bar is tired of serving Chinese so he places a sign above the door informing potential patrons of this fact and explicitly banning Chinese customers from entering his establishment. Now it does not matter how many Chinese people this effects because presumably this is an educated society like ours. If people’s attitudes have truly changed then they will not go to Fred’s. Would you go into an establishment that banned people on the basis of some crude collectivist notion that their race, gender, creed, etc. was inferior? I doubt that a lot of people would patronize such an establishment.

So what would happen? In an educated society, places like Fred’s wouldn’t remain in business too long, or there wouldn’t be too many places that would be able to survive the repercussions of a free market backlash to such abhorrent racist notions. Fred’s only options are to a) remain open as long as possible; b) close, or; c) change his rules. If he chooses option c he has learned a lesson that banning people on foolish subjective reasons is illogical. He still has the right to do it – no one can stop him in this free world that we’re imagining – but the economic costs may be too harsh. He has the right to dispose of that property in any manner he wishes since it is his, but he must take the consequences of that action on the free market where his livelihood is made.

Other real world problems can be solved as well if the government would remove all regulations. The problem is that outside of the protection of our rights, the government has no right to decide which goals are more valuable than others. As such, protecting the environment or stimulating growth is not in the government’s purview. All of these laws assume that the goals of the government are more important than the individual property owner that they are imposing on. If there was an economic incentive to ‘save’ the environment, rest assured, someone will find it and utilize it to make a profit. Rather than government rules to protect something that may not need protection or comes at too high of a cost to be feasible under any real world test, the environment would be protected by people who have a real incentive to protect their investment.

Education and freedom is the key to solving real world problems, not government regulations that deny people their economic – or political – rights. Government restrictions on the use of private property are immoral and never work. Period. To promote freedom and responsible use and action, people must be given a logical and rational reason to pursue that course of action. A commandment from on high only serves for the minimum to be done.

I am not saying the market is always right. Racism was institutional in many areas of the world, even the nation that was the freest on Earth (especially during its economically freest period). Has racism disappeared since the passing of a myriad of laws designed to eliminate discrimination? For the most part, but I would posit that racism has lessened because people see that the behavior is irrational, counter-productive and contrary to a free society and market, not because of government action. Abhorrent behavior can only be rid of by giving people the right to be abhorrent.

Property rights are an inalienable right of human kind, whether or not the government recognizes that fact. By imposing regulations on property owners, the government is directly attacking liberty. Government is instituted with a monopoly of to protect us from coercive behavior, not impose them. While some jurisdictions in North America have worked towards lessening the government’s oppressive action against liberty there is much left to be done. The conservative movement must present a clear and cogent argument against all of the government regulation. We must convince people that all such regulations are an infringement of their rights and must be rectified.

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