[Video] The Rise and Fall of Property Rights in America

Private property rightsThe Ayn Rand Institute has been publishing a number of video recently of lectures given on various topics, the most recent being a talk by Adam Mossoff  on property rights. In this fascinating talk he discusses how the concept of the right to property arose, reaching its peak in the early to mid 19th century in the United States and how since that time these rights have been protected less and less.

This is an area I have been particularly interested in over the past few years, having come to understand that property rights are the foundation of all other rights. Property rights, or more accurately the right to property, is the right to gain, use and dispose of property as you see fit. A moment’s thought should allow you to see how this right underlies any other right. How can you live, exercise you right to life, without the ability to gain, use and dispose of the material (food, money and etc) necessary to do so? Similar cases can be made for all other rights. As Ayn Rand put it, “No human rights can exist without property rights.”

For more information on property rights, you can check out posts here, here, here, herehere and here, the lecture series by Dr. Eric Daniels on Property Rights in American History and also the wonderful book by Timothy Sandefur titled Cornerstone of Liberty: Property Rights in 21st Century America. (Warning, some information you find, especially in Timothy Sandefur’s book, may well have you wanting to beat your head on the table.)

During the Q&A period, which includes Dr. Yaron Brook, a woman asks a question which I thought illustrated quite well one of the reasons why property rights are so poorly defended today. The woman stated that years ago she bought a piece of property with the understanding that the area was zoned rural, but now is unhappy because the local government is changing the zoning to permit development all around her, which she doesn’t like. She, like many people, apparently did not realize that she was relying on the initiation of government force to prevent people from using their land in ways she didn’t like via the zoning restrictions and is now unhappy that the same government force is being used in ways she does not like.

As Dr. Brook put it in his response:

Once you grant the government the authority to violate property rights, they are going to violate them. And how that actually comes to be depends on the particular political forces at play. … Once you give up the principle of property rights, it’s a free for all…it becomes who has more pull.  Adam Mossoff added: Who can claim they speak in the public interest.