Capital Goods and Capital

 

Private Property and Property Rights

 

 

Property rights are an extension to the right to life. In order to support yourself through reason and stay alive, you must be able to own and use the product of your labour. If the tools of your survival are subject to random confiscation, then your life is subject to random destruction.

All other rights can be derived from Property Rights, and therefore political freedom, true political freedom requires recognition and respect for property rights.

This fact can be shown by simple examples. To respect the right and freedom to use your property as you see fit this must include respect to use your property to carry out such activities as holding political meetings. To hold speeches on any subject on your property. To build meeting halls on your property. If your property includes a newspaper, to print whatever opinion you want in your paper. If your property is a webpage, to publish whatever you want on that page. To deny someone’s right to do any of the above is to deny them their property rights.

Freedom of speech is included in everyone’s right to use their property as they see fit. Any government interference with your freedom to use your property as you see fit, (whether it is a farm, a radio station, a TV station, a newspaper, or a webpage) is a violation of your property rights as well as your right to free speech.

Governments can violate your property rights in a number of ways, such as taxation and restrictions on the use of your property with out compensation.

When the government imposes taxes on your income or property, they are violating your property rights. You have a right to use and enjoy your property and the fruits of your labour as you see fit. This becomes impossible if the government (or Mafia, or whoever else you wish to enter into this blank space) has a habit of seizing it, at the point of a gun if necessary, to use for their own purposes. Their argument will be that they are giving you peace, order and "good government" in return for the wealth and property they stole from you and besides, you had a chance to vote in the last election, therefore it is all legal. However, they may decide that you need a new embassy in London, while you have to keep driving that old car for another two years. They may decide that you need an all expenses paid day care program for your non-existent children while you and your wife must make do with that old worn out carpet for another year. They may decide that Bombardier Ltd needs help to make its annual sales revenue targets, (and Jean the PM needs a couple of fancy new planes) while you would prefer that your pension cheque lasts till the end of the month. 

Environmental laws frequently violate our property rights. For example in Saskatchewan, the Wildlife Act has provisions for species at risk. This law identifies several species of animals, birds and plants that are endangered or threatened. If any of these species are found on your property, you will not be allowed to make future changes to your land that in the governments opinion further endangers this species. This law, like all similar laws, uses coercion as the means to achieve its ends. This however, has unintended consequences. Large fines can be imposed on violators of this law, up to $500,000. This sets up an incentive to rid your land of all endangered and threatened species before the green cops discover them. Therefore, in the end, the species are gone and your property rights are seriously violated. No one gains. (http://www.cpaws-sask.org/campaign/legisl/endangered_sask2000.html)

The government bureaucrat will argue that the Wildlife Act is not a violation of our rights, because they are merely protecting wildlife and wildlife habitat. Putting caveats or "restrictions of use" on your property without fair and agreed to compensation is the same as confiscation. To a home owner in a city this would be comparable to saying that you are no longer allowed to mow your lawn or use your backyard for lawn parties because we found a rare sub species of dandelion there. But of course you must still pay the same property taxes and up keep your fences even though your house will not command as much on the market as it did before, and no we will not compensate you for your losses. Kill that dandelion as soon as you see it!

In Kenya, elephants roam unowned on unfenced terrain. The Kenyan government bans all uses of the elephant except tourism. The elephants are mostly seen as a nuisance by the local landowners. From the early 1980's to the early 1990's the elephant population crashed from over 65,000 to 19,000. Other African countries that followed Kenya's example suffered similar declines in elephant populations. In Zimbabwe, the local people were allowed to benefit from elephants in more ways than just tourism by actually assigning property rights of the elephants to local landowners. Elephant hides and ivory are openly traded there. Zimbabwe has seen its elephant population grow from 30,000 to 40,000 over the same ten year period. Other African countries that followed Zimbabwe's example have seen similar increases in elephant populations.

In Zimbabwe the elephants are seen as an income producing asset rather than a liability. Therefore it is in the landowners best interest to see an increase in this asset, and increase in the elephant population. More elephants represent an increase in wealth. In Saskatchewan the poor burrowing owl is not only not seen as an asset, it will be considered a liability, a serious liability. Something to be got rid of as soon as it is spotted. (please note, I am NOT advocating getting rid of endangered species, I am merely pointing out that humans respond to incentives, and the present laws in Saskatchewan give a powerful incentive to landowners to rid their land of endangered species.) If Saskatchewan wants to help endangered species, then find a way of turning them into assets, or at least don't turn them in costly liabilities.

Nobel laureate Frederick Hayek wrote, "Private property is the most important guarantee of freedom". He was right then, and he is right now.

Editor