Pillars of Libertarianism: Private Property Rights

In the first of a two part series on the pillars of libertarianism, we are going to briefly review private property rights, the applications of property rights, and their importance to a libertarian society.

Firmly grounded in natural law, property rights begins with self-ownership and extends to all justly acquired property. Self-ownership simply means that you own the exclusive rights to your own body. Property can be justly acquired in two ways: original appropriation via the homesteading principle or through voluntary exchange. It’s by this definition of private property that you can logically derive the Non-Aggression Principle.

The reason that private property rights are so important is simple: scarcity.

Scarcity is the idea that our wants and desires are often too great in relation to the availability of our resources.  In other words, there is never enough of a particular resource to satisfy everyone’s desire for that resource. Throughout history, scarcity has been the main source of human conflict. Countless wars have been fought over land or access to natural resources.

Strong private property rights have several vital applications. First of all,they provide an objective basis to view and resolve disputes. Hans-Hermann Hoppe sums this idea up in his A Theory of Capitalism and Socialism, “Property is thus a normative concept: a concept designed to make a conflict-free interaction possible by stipulating mutually binding rules of conduct (norms) regarding scarce resources.”

Second, strong private property rights are a prerequisite for free and voluntary exchange and therefore, absolutely necessary for a free market economy to function properly. Austrian economist Ludwig Von Mises argued in his legendary work Human Action that without private property rights, one cannot correctly calculate economic decisions. One only needs to look at the sad state of communist and socialist countries around the world to prove Mises’ point.

Lastly, private property rights provide the basis for all human rights. As Rothbard states in For a New Liberty, 

“In fact, there are no human rights that are separable from property rights. The human right of free speech is simply the property right to hire an assembly hall of the owners, or to own oneself; the human right of a free press is the property right to buy materials and then print leaflets or books and to sell them to those who are willing to buy. There is no extra “right of free speech” or free press beyond the property rights we can enumerate in any given case.”

Properly defined, the concept of private property is a clear and defined standard by which disputes over resources, including labor, can be judged.  Combined with non-aggression, these norms will produce a society that’s peaceful, prosperous, and free.

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