Choice and Philosophy Kushay's Matter Bank

[AK] Moral Arguments for Property Rights

This note will discuss principles revolving property rights, which asserts that someone has the right to consume, alter, and transfer ownership of their properties (“property” includes a lot of things: Cars, debt papers, even one’s own body) peacefully, without coercion by anyone.

The arguments in favor of property rights generally goes as follows:

1. Property rights are essential for one’s freedom. Because oftentimes various actions cannot be done if the properties involved in such actions is owned by someone else. For example, a religious institution cannot be truly free if the government owns all the church and has control over its printing facilities.

But full private ownership is not a prerequisite for many peaceful activities. For some activities, such as swimming at a public beach, the right to use property is often sufficient. The rights to alter, consume, exclude others, sell, trade, mortgage, let, give, or bequeath the beach are usually not required for such peaceful use. What about it then? Two things.

The highest degree of freedom often requires full ownership. For example, if a person is a liberal shop owner and a neo-Nazi wants to buy something from their store, it isn’t enough for them to just use their shop, they have to exclude the neo-Nazi.
Even if this is the case, it’s still wrong because the freedom of one person is contingent upon the benevolence of the other. What if suddenly the government bans people from swimming at beaches? Having full property rights avoids this kind of uncertainty.

2. If someone discovers, occupies, “and mixes his labor” (can be broadly defined: invest, develop, etc.) into something previously undiscovered/unaltered, they have a moral claim to it because they have mixed what they owned into something that is previously unowned. Why is this principle true?

Because they took a risk in doing that action. Let’s say, someone plows a previously untouched field. What’s to guarantee that the field will produce something? What if it dries out and the person suffers a loss? Not everyone is willing to take this kind of calculated risk, and so the person who does deserves to own the things produced.

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