Editor's note: This is the third of three lessons in Free Enterprise.

Private Property

By Fred Schnaubelt
Monday, October 3, 2005

A free society cannot exist unless government is foreclosed from confiscating property. If government can take away property or control property, it can take away freedom of speech, religion, press.
—Alexander Hamilton

The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence.
—John Adams

Private property was not practiced in America until three years after the pilgrims landed at Plymouth in 1620. That colony had been established on pure and unadulterated communism, for it made no difference what or how much anyone produced; it was commandeered, backed by whippings if need be, and placed in a communal storehouse. It was then doled out to each according to his need.

In other words, the Pilgrims began with an idea that two centuries later would be the ideal of the Communist party—from each according to his ability; to each according to his need. After three years this idea was dropped and for good reason. They were starving. When people starve, they frequently stop and think. Came the third winter of discontent and 50 of the 102 who came across on the Mayflower had died. Gov. Bradford called everyone together one evening and said, in effect, anyone can give away what's in the storehouse, but this assumes that there is something in the storehouse to give; however, under our system, there is nothing there. In the spring, instead of giving to each according to need, we are going to try a new idea—to each according to merit or production. And when spring arrived, according to the governor's diary, something phenomenal occurred. Previously only the men worked the fields, but now not only the men were there but also the wives and children.

In the governor's words, "Every family (was assigned) a parcel of land, for present use ... This had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the governor or any other could use." What the Pilgrims did was to begin to practice the idea of private ownership, not perfectly, but more perfectly than it had ever been practiced before. From that time on, they never again starved and Plymouth Colony prospered and grew.

The right to life is the source of all rights and the right to property is the only way to secure them. Without property rights, no other rights can be exercised. You cannot exercise freedom of religion, speech, press or assembly if the government owns or controls all property and if you are trespassing upon the very land you walk.

"The right of property," Arthur Lee of Virginia declared, "is the guardian of every other right, and to deprive people of this is in fact to deprive them of their liberty." Later on, Karl Marx would write to the contrary, "Communism may be summed up in the single sentence, abolition of private property." According to the Index of Economic Freedom, nearly every country that has followed that doctrine has failed. (The exception, oil rich nations). Think of the former Soviet Union, North Korea, or Mao's China. The more that governments interfere in free markets, the more they hamper economic growth and lower the standard of living of their citizens.

Under the U.S. Constitution, the Fifth Amendment is the guardian of all our rights. At least it was until the U.S. Supreme Court abolished federal protection of property rights last June in Kelo v. New London. The court held that any government jurisdiction can take anyone's property and give it to another private party if deemed for a "public purpose." Earlier courts held the opposite view. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story opined, "(A society) can scarcely be deemed to be free where the rights of property are left solely dependent upon the will of a legislative body, without any restraint."

California cities, without restraint, are making the building of new churches extremely difficult because they pay no taxes. The city of Cypress was willing to condemn a church property for Costco, which promised to pay property taxes to Cypress. In San Diego, a golf course and Ferrari dealership have been declared blighted and subject to condemnation. In 1922, a prescient Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes warned, "The general rule, at least, is that while property may be regulated to a certain extent; if the regulation goes too far, it will be recognized as a taking ... the natural tendency of human nature is to extend the qualification more and more until, at last, private property disappears."

God has granted us an unparalleled cornucopia that benefits every strata of society. The average American today lives far better than the kings and queens, princes and potentates, the wealthiest of the wealthy, of just a hundred years ago. Most obviously, it's in terms of communication, transportation, refrigeration, heating and air-conditioning, telephones, televisions, computers, medical care, etc. Even the poorest in America live better today than the average person in all but about a half dozen other countries in the world, all due to America's limited government, market economy, and history of private property. How do you stand on private property?


This appeared in:
Daily Transcript

on Monday, October 3, 2005

Schnaubelt, president of Citizens for Private Property Rights, has been a commercial real estate broker for 35 years and was a San Diego City Councilman from 1977-81. Send comments to editor@sddt.com. All letters are forwarded to the author and may be published as Letters to the Editor. [Reprinted with permission.]



Lesson 1, Limited Government
Lesson 2, The Market Economy
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