Liberty, Property, and the American Dream

Emily Pacanins Period 4

           In his Liberty and Property, Ludwig von Mises addresses the arguments surrounding Socialism, Capitalism, and private property. The central idea is the freedom of the human person and government’s role in providing a structure for it to flourish. The Socialist argue that a uniform market that which provides equality for all is the best way to achieve freedom; however, this would take away private property and thus opportunity. On the other hand, Capitalism wants private property to drive the market to new heights and drive society forward. The downside is that there is a separation in classes and income. In this writing he addresses how both govern and concludes that capitalism is decidedly better, but more importantly that private property is necessary for liberty and for a social market.

            The central question that this reading poses is whether or not private property is good or bad for a nation as a whole and for its individuals. According to the Bill of Rights of the United States, the right to property is a natural right of man and is equivalent to liberty. Regarding government, von Mises writes, “civil rights are the statutes that precisely circumscribe the sphere in which the men conducting the affairs of state are permitted to restrict the individuals’ freedom to act.” To von Mises, private property is a way for society to progress and for everyone to have equal opportunity. This also parallels to the “American Dream” which is the idea that one can make anything out of his or her life because of this right of equal opportunity. Von Mises argues that private property “is the means to stimulate a nation’s most enterprising men to exert themselves to the best of their abilities in the service of all of the people.” With private property, a man “needs only brains and hard work” in order to be a successful businessman. In other words, private property is a means for every person to have the liberty to create the life they want and to find happiness or their final end, as Aristotle would put it. In order for the United States to be the land of liberty and opportunity, private property is necessary for each individual.

Additionally, Private property can also influence society by increasing education and pushing it forward with new innovations. Since private property can be used by a businessman to enter the market and influence the public, it transforms into an incentive for higher education. Von Mises says, “There is no record of an industrial innovation contrived and put into practice by bureaucrats. If one does not want to plunge into stagnation, a free hand must be left to those today unknown to men who have the ingenuity to lead mankind forward on the way to more and more satisfactory conditions.” What makes America the land of the free and attracts immigrants from all over is the concept that anyone can come over and create the next big thing. No matter their walk of life, a person can recreate themselves and even become a household name if they had the drive to get an education and apply it. Without private property, many young people would not see a point to education, especially a college education, and would never be able to develop their personal interests and talents. A person’s character can be decided and influenced entirely through their property.

Thus, without private property, no one would desire to get an education and society and culture would begin to decline. Von Mises puts it this way, “the standard of living was incomparably higher in the free countries of the West than in the communist East. In giving away liberty as the price to be paid for the acquisition of prosperity, the Russians made a poor bargain.” Private property encourages society to exchange with each other and increases the idea of individualism, “a sphere in which the individual is free to think, to choose, and to act… All the spiritual and material achievements of Western civilization were the result of the operation of liberty.” Without private property, man would be hopelessly ruled by a few elites who dictate how the world will be run, just like in George Orwell’s 1984. There would be no progress and the economy and market system would crash. Private property also gives rise to the opportunity of investing and saving; “capitalism has made it possible for him to save, to accumulate capital and invest it.” The entire economy of the United States and most other countries is based on private property and the idea of investing, buying, trading, and saving. Private property gives just another route of investing and increasing commerce. Additionally, an individual is not forced to stay in the income level he was born into, but instead could make a brand new life for him and his family through how he invests and saves. This brings us back to the all important notion of the American Dream which is essentially equality and liberty.

Private property is liberty. Without it and other necessary civil rights, the world would go back to the pre-capitalistic world where “society separated the owners of property from the penniless poor.” America was founded on the idea that hard work can get you anywhere. During the industrial revolution, millions of immigrants came to be a part of the huge steel, oil, and banking tycoons. Today, Americans regard them as the ones who sparked our long history of industrial success. Even when going all the way back to the founding of America you will find that a few rebels decided they had a right to the lands they lived on and that it was unjust to be ruled by a government so far away which only saw them as a means for more land and consequently more world power. Before they fought to the rights of their land and to govern themselves, they were just pets being used by the British to expand their empire. America is still appealing to immigrants today who look to the U.S. as an escape from their countries who do not have the same ideas about property and liberty. Ask anyone anywhere in the world where they would move for opportunity and most would say America. Private property gives humans dignity and is a natural right of all, and that is why most chase it and end up here in America and pursue the American Dream.

Von Mises argues that liberty and property go hand in hand and that capitalism should be favored over socialism based on these two natural rights guaranteed to all humans. The right to private property is proven to influence societies for the better and ultimately lead to a higher standard of living. While there is still classes and poverty, everyone is granted the opportunity to educate themselves and even become the next great thinkers and businessmen. This is because private property becomes an incentive and a means for a higher education and thus helps develop a person into all that he or she can be. Property also gives rise to individualism which is important for a market society and for advancement on a global scale. It is proven that countries like the United States have more influence and a more stable society than those who do not such as Russia. Private property is the driving force behind the American Dream, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Without it, we would not live in the country we know today and we would be defined by the few elites in charge, just like the pre-capitalist days where the poor laborers worked solely for the noblemen. While private property still creates a gap between the poor, rich, and middle class, it also promises an avenue for liberty and for anyone to jump between classes. Private property is necessary for liberty and for opportunity.


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