Fundamental Economic Concepts (Part 5 of 12) - Property -
We are only concerned about economics because we live in a world of scarce resources with alternative competing uses. If we had an infinite supple of resources to fulfill our every want and desire without constraint, the problem of deciding how to best allocate goods and services of value would simply not exist. However, our resources (including our time and our physical bodies) are scarce, and they do have alternative competing uses.
As Hans-Hermann Hoppe details in the Economics and Ethics of Private Property, the very fact that we are able to argue at all “...implies there is a conflict over the use of some scarce resources, otherwise there would be no need for discussion. This is only possible because of objective boarders of property - borders which anyone can recognize as such on his own without having to agree first with anyone else with respect to his system of values and evaluations.” Hoppe goes on to explain:“The fact of being alive presupposes the right to property. No one who is alive could argue otherwise.”

While, the question of who should have the right to property (nature of
property rights) is a question for Political Philosophy, there are significant economic implications as well.

Ludwig von Mises’s
calculation argument states that economic calculation (the cost-benefit analysis of anticipated resource applications in terms of a common denominator) is literally impossible without private property. Because no private property necessarily implies no market prices for land, labor, and resources; no market prices means expected revenue and cost cannot be expressed in common terms. The absence of a common expression for calculating exchange relationships means accounting operations and economic calculations are impossible! No private property, no economy. It's that simple.Mises elaborates:
  • Without economic calculation there can be no economy. Hence, in a socialist state wherein the pursuit of economic calculation is impossible, there can be--in our sense of the term--no economy whatsoever. In trivial and secondary matters rational conduct might still be possible, but in general it would be impossible to speak of rational production any more.”
Socialism is unworkable in theory and in practice for the unavoidable reason that economic calculation is not possible in the absence of private property. Private property is the first theory of sound economics. It is no coincidence that the strongest economies in the world are those that have historically protected individual's rights to private property.

Most people in America are quick to agree that respect for private property is essential for a free and prosperous society. It is easy to see the political and economic devastation in nations where the right to justly acquired property is ignored. However, few people (even those that claim to champion property rights), consistently defend this essential concept.

Most people concede that there are just some cases where private property doesn't work; typically citing arguments about the impossibility of the market's ability to produce “public goods” (like a road or lighthouse) or regulate externalities like air pollution. Others claim that private property should be respected...up until the point where the needs of the “common good” supersede individual rights. At this point, property seizure at the point of a gun (taxes) become justified.

The arguments about the market's inability to provide so-called “public goods” and arguments justifying criminal theft in the name of the “common good” are logically flawed and are readily refuted.

If you would like to learn more about a theory of just property (including a libertarian solution to the problem of automobile pollution), I highly recommend Murray Rothbard's article Law, Property Rights, and Air Pollution Originally published in the Cato Journal 2, No. 1 (Spring 1982): pp. 55-99.

Suggested Books for Additional Reading on the Topic of Property:
Economic Calculation In The Socialist Commonwealth by Ludwig von Mises
The Economics and Ethics of Private Property by Hans-Hermann Hoppe

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