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On Property Rights

Here’s a letter that I sent on June 5th to the Washington Post:


Christopher Ingraham makes a jaw-droppingly naïve claim: “‘Protecting property’ is an abstraction” for the “[m]ore than 1 in 5 U.S. families [who] have zero or negative net worth.”

Contrary to Mr. Ingraham’s suggestion, to have zero or negative net worth is not to have no property worth protecting. An individual can easily have negative net worth and still own a home, a car, tools of a trade, a business, as well as the fruits of his or her labor. To assert that protection of property is, to such a person, “an abstraction” is insulting and infantile.

Even more fundamental is the fact that security of property extends benefits well beyond owners. Only if she is secure in her property can the grocer serve her customers. Only if he is secure in his property can the garage owner provide employment to his workers. Only if they are secure in their property can the co-owners of a clothing boutique earn the revenues out of which they pay taxes.

Mr. Ingraham’s assumption that the security of any particular piece of property is a benefit only to its owner reveals obtuseness staggering in its magnitude.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030