When government accumulates power in responding to crises, it commandeers resources. The taxes, regulations, and subsidies imposed allegedly to alleviate military and economic emergencies thus inevitably limit peoples peaceful use of their possessions. Control over more and more resources is transferred from private hands to government bureaus. So even in the United States, whose Constitution affirms the right to property, the government has infringed this basic liberty in the name of military preparedness and ending depressions.
The great irony is that the most fundamental right to individual sovereigntyprivate propertyis the one most highly questioned. Property rights are usually construed narrowly to cover only things that can be exchanged, given away, or abandoned. But since a property right is the right to use and dispose of something, it actually has a far broader meaning. One begins with a right to ones own person, including ones body and energies. Indeed, this is that basic right that gives rise to the right to appropriate unowned objects from nature and to exchange peacefully acquired property with willing traders. In fact, without property rights there are no rights at all.
Consider the right to freedom of the press. Publishing a newspaper requires land, printing equipment, paper, ink, and numerous other material objects. Without property rights in those assets, how could anyone exercise freedom of the press? Similar requirements apply to the freedom of speech, religion, assembly, and so on. People who champion these allegedly non-economic civil liberties and call for maximum government protection of them, while downgrading the importance of property rights, are caught in a deadly contradiction. See how civil liberties fared in the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and other regimes, especially during war crises, in which property rights are subordinated to collective State control.
A misconception about property is that it protects only the well-off while the opposite is true. Private property is a sanctuary for the disadvantaged from arbitrary government power which is invariably used for the benefit of politically-connected elites. Each person owns oneself and more and requires the right to freely utilize such property to survive, advance oneself, and live in peace and security. In addition, without property rights there can be no personal privacy. Furthermore, under collectivist (meaning government) control of resources, everyone is both an employee and ward of the state. Twentieth-century despotism vividly illustrated the dangers inherent in that situation. In contrast, under private property, even people who have few possessions would have alternatives thanks to the multiple employers, clients and others bidding for their services, association and business.
Individual private property rights are the bedrock of personal liberty, the rule of law, the market economy, prosperity, privacy, and peace. When government takes advantage of emergencies by increasing its power over people and their private resources, it undermines those institutions and values, which are the keys to a civil society.
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