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Alchian: In Defense of Property Rights and Liberty

Posted by Larry Doyle on February 21, 2013 9:46 AM |

Oratorical and literary giants have spoken and written at length on what has made our nation great. People could literally spend a lifetime studying the works of these individuals.

Yesterday while traveling on the train I read a simple yet compelling case for what I believe lies at the very foundation of our nation’s greatness.

Why do I think of the 272 word Gettysburg Address as I read a 192 word passage written by the recently deceased economist Armen A. Alchian.

The Wall Street Journal highlights Alchian’s timeless wisdom:  

From Armen A. Alchian’s “Property Rights” in “The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics” (2008): 

One of the most fundamental requirements of a capitalist economic system—and one of the most misunderstood concepts—is a strong system of property rights. For decades social critics in the United States and throughout the Western world have complained that “property” rights too often take precedence over “human” rights, with the result that people are treated unequally and have unequal opportunities. Inequality exists in any society. But the purported conflict between property rights and human rights is a mirage. Property rights are human rights.

The definition, allocation, and protection of property rights comprise one of the most complex and difficult sets of issues that any society has to resolve, but one that must be resolved in some fashion. For the most part, social critics of “property” rights do not want to abolish those rights. Rather, they want to transfer them from private ownership to government ownership. . . .

Any restraint on private property rights shifts the balance of power from impersonal attributes toward personal attributes and toward behavior that political authorities approve. That is a fundamental reason for preference of a system of strong private property rights: private property rights protect individual liberty.

So simple yet so powerful. With Uncle Sam having moved into all of our lives in an ever increasing fashion over the last few years, the violation of our property rights strikes me as a topic deserving greater focus. Not that many in Washington nor the media care to go there.

For those who care, I welcome sharing a 6-minute ‘sense on cents‘ classic clip in which Armen Alchian addresses this angle on our human rights and liberty.

Navigate accordingly.

Larry Doyle

Isn’t  it time or overtime to subscribe to all my work via e-mail, an RSS feed, on Twitter or Facebook.

I have no business interest with any entity referenced in this commentary. The opinions expressed are my own. I am a proponent of real transparency within our markets so that investor confidence and investor protection can be achieved.

  • Eddie

    Personal property rights are a cure for most economic woes. Show me a problem with prosperity like poverty, wealth accumulation & unemployment and i’ll show you tainted property rights, also issues with wildlife and the environment can be solved by encouraging personal property rights not abdicating them to the government, it’s only their job to enforce them. You know me.

  • Dear Larry,

    It is always thrilling to find another person who is ‘on the same page.” To go further with my point is to recognize that the only argument that can ultimately defeat the State and which must be part of the foundation of ideological change towards liberty and justice is the argument of morality (and ethics). All violations of property rights are violations of human rights which makes it clear how unethical it is to have a State. Government that functions within the parameters of voluntary social cooperation is the alternative. Defining and refining property rights(fully cognizant that human rights=property rights and vice versa) and providing the structure necessary to enforce these property rights guarantees the correct outcome – a prosperous and peaceful civilization.

    Property Rights Are Human Rights

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