Friday, September 10, 2010

The Founders on property rights, markets and money

In the Founding era, defenses of property rights proceeded along two main lines: justice and utility. The justice approach treats property as a fundamental right that it would be morally wrong to infringe, regardless of whether it served a useful purpose. The Continental Congress declared in 1774, for example, that “by the immutable laws of nature,” the people “are entitled to…property.” In the Virginia Declaration of Rights (1776), property is an “inherent” right. Massachusetts (1780) called it a right “natural, essential, and unalienable.” Four other states used similar language.[6] Viewed in this way, to deprive someone of his property is to violate a right—to commit an injustice. The Founders’ argument from justice rests ultimately on the claim that “all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights,” one of which is “the means of acquiring and possessing property.”[8] All six of these early state declarations of rights use almost the same language. In this understanding, all are born free; that is, they own their own minds and bodies. Since all are free, all may freely use their talents to acquire property and to keep or use the property they acquire. For individuals or government to forcibly prevent someone from acquiring property, or to use coercion to transfer property from one person to another, deprives that person of the fruits of his labor. It is a violation of his liberty as well as his property. From the point of view of justice, deprivation of property rights is immoral. Property rights were also understood and defended in terms of their usefulness to life and society, independently of the question of justice...more

Unfortunately, the U.S. now ranks 40th in the world when it comes to recognizing property rights according to the World Economic Forum.


Tick said...

I attempted to read Joe Weisenthal's article about why we are ranked 40th and I'm still scratching my head as to how he came up with his figures (and reasoning).

Frank DuBois said...

The ranking is on page 366 of the WEF report which Weisenthal links to.