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Quotation of the Day…

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… is from page 173 of Tom Bethell’s superb 1998 book, The Noblest Triumph [2]:

The classical-liberal conception of rights is likely to be discomforting to any ruling class, no matter how constituted, because it reliably subtracts power from those who rule, or hope to, and distributes it among the people.  Decentralized private property has had precisely that effect.

The late-1960s and early-1970s phrase “Power to the People!” – although chanted mostly by the economically uninformed hippies of that era as a mantra for more and (what they imagined would be) ‘purer’ collective decision-making – is actually an excellent phrase for summarizing the benefits of secure private property rights.  An owner of private property – even if only the property in his or her own person – can individually chose how that property is used.  The only restraints on use are a rather small list of common-law “DON’Ts” – such as “DON’T use your property to physically impede other owner’s uses of their property” – that emerge to ensure that every property owner has rights to use his or her property that are commensurate with the property rights of other individuals.

The individual property owner cannot force others to participate in her chosen use, although she is free to bargain for others’ voluntary participation in that use.  And the individual property owner need not first secure the approval of other people in order for her to use her property as she chooses, as long as she does not attempt to use her property in ways that violate one or more of the “DON’Ts.”  Through the institution of private property, each person’s voice is significant, for that voice always has an effective veto power over the uses to which her property might be put, and the owner is under no obligation to win the approval of a majority of some group, or of some government official, in order for her to use her property in whatever way she individually chooses (again, subject, as always, to the “DON’Ts”).

One of the greatest delusions of many people is that freedom and ‘voice’ in one’s life resides chiefly in, and is secured chiefly by, the right to vote.  In fact, freedom and voice in one’s life resides chiefly in, and is secured chiefly by, the rights of private property (and the associated law of contract and tort).

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