It’s All About Property Rights

by | Aug 9, 2022

Ayn Rand correctly wrote that without property rights, no other rights are possible.

“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: the 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. Only a ghost can exist without material property; only a slave can work with no right to the product of his effort. 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; since the competent have nothing to gain from the incompetent, it means the right of the incompetent to own their betters and to use them as productive cattle. Whoever regards this as human and right, has no right to the title of “human.” “- John Galt, in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged

Ayn Rand correctly wrote that without property rights, no other rights are possible. And the reason is, it’s all about property rights.

The right to property means the freedom to produce, trade, and use material values. If you are like most people, the bulk of your waking hours are spent producing, trading, or using material values. The bulk of your waking hours involve the exercise of your property rights in one form or another.

Property rights protect our freedom to choose the values that we will produce, as well as our freedom to trade those values with willing buyers. However, property rights do more than protect our freedom to sustain and enhance our lives. The right to property also provides the means by which social disputes can be peacefully resolved. It really is all about property rights.

If we examine any political/cultural issue, we can easily see that individuals want different things. Unskilled workers want a higher minimum wage, while employers want to pay wages based on the worker’s productivity. Tenants want protection from evictions, and landlords want the freedom to determine to whom they will rent their property. Some homeowners want to use zoning to prohibit anything except single-family homes, and other property owners want to be free to increase housing density.

These issues, and many others like them, may seem to be reconcilable only by forcing some individuals to act contrary to their judgment. For example, employers can be forced to pay more than they desire, or employees can be “forced” to accept a wage lower than they desire. Single-family zoning forces property owners to use their land in ways they may not desire, while the absence of single-family zoning will “force” property owners to accept multi-family housing nearby. Property rights can resolve these issues, but we must be clear on the meaning of force.

The use of force prevents an individual from acting on his own judgment. Indeed, the purpose of force is to compel an individual to act contrary to his judgment. The armed robber, for example, compels his victim to involuntarily relinquish property. Force is the physical interference in an individual’s actions.

Paying a worker less than he desires is not an act of force. Raising the rent to a level that the tenant can’t afford is not an act of force. Building a four-plex in a residential neighborhood is not an act of force. In each instance, individuals remain free to act as they think best. The employee can seek a better paying job or obtain greater skills. The tenant can negotiate different terms, earn more income, or move. A property owner can buy neighboring land, seek to implement deed restrictions, or move. In each instance, individuals have alternatives. When an individual is free to choose among all of the alternatives, there is no force.

The use of force eliminates at least one alternative. When the armed robber demands, “Your wallet or your life,” he has eliminated the alternative of retaining both your wallet and your life. We can solve nearly any social dispute by eliminating force and protecting the right to property. The right to property protects our freedom to choose the alternative that we deem best for us. It’s all about property rights.

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Brian Phillips is the founder of the Texas Institute for Property Rights. Brian has been defending property rights for nearly thirty years. He played a key role in defeating zoning in Houston, Texas, and in Hobbs, New Mexico. He is the author of three books: Individual Rights and Government Wrongs, The Innovator Versus the Collective, and Principles and Property Rights. Visit his website at texasipr.com.

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