The Justice of Private Property Rights


The justice of individual property rights has been called into question many times throughout American history. Some people believe property rights should be managed by the government, not put in place to protect citizens from the government.[1] For many reasons, however, private property rights are necessary for the preservation of human dignity. Private property rights are just and necessary because everyone has the same basic necessities of life and deserves to fulfill those needs; private property empowers one to make economic decisions concerning oneself; and the ownership of private property enhances one’s individual liberty.

Everything one uses to benefit himself is considered property, from the food he eats to the clothing upon his back. Because of this, there is an instinctual sense of ownership when it comes to even basic items. All of humanity shares a common bond – our needs for survival are the same, and without private, individual ownership of the items needed to fulfill these needs, it is impossible to guarantee that each person’s needs are adequately met. Beyond just the basic needs, Pope Leo XIII emphasizes in Rerum Novarum that “it must be within [man’s] right to possess things not merely for temporary and momentary use…but to have and to hold them in stable and permanent possession; he must have not only things that perish in the use, but those also which…continue for further use.” Because of his ability to reason, man is able to anticipate the things he will need to survive for an extended period of time; the ownership of private property allows him to provide for himself in anticipation of his present and future needs.[2]

Private property rights protect individuals from the seizing of intellectual property by the government. If a scientist finds a cure for cancer, without private property rights the government can easily take the wealth gained from her discovery and spread it to people not even remotely involved with the project for the sake of redistribution. This is how socialist countries operate; equality for all persons seems like a good idea in theory until one realizes that the distribution of wealth means getting what the government thinks one should receive even if one contributes more to the national wealth than someone else.[3] Research shows that economically free countries – that is, countries with strong private property rights – such as Switzerland have a lower poverty rate than countries which are only mostly free, like the United States; in freer countries more individuals own property and utilize that property to improve their quality of life.[4]

Private property rights pave the way for creativity within society. With incentives for pursuing beneficial work, private property rights encourage people to invest in their dreams. Without the feeling of security brought by these rights, individuals may not see the value in following their ambitions if the costs of doing so outweigh the benefit one may receive for his or her efforts. No iPhones or Macs would be in existence today had the federal government in 1974 said to Steve Jobs, “So that new computer you’re making blueprints for sounds pretty fantastic and everyone wants it. It’s really great that you’re anticipating a big return on investment, but in the name of equality, we’ll be taking the money you earn from it and giving some to Sally, John, Dwight, and everyone else in the country.”[5] The use of private property rights in a country inspires innovation and technological advances to occur, and encourages individual self-expression.

The United States was founded on values which strove to protect citizens from oppression by the government. Our Constitution was written to ensure no natural rights were to be infringed upon by the American government as they had been in England and in other European nations.[6] One of these rights is to own private property that is protected from theft by anyone. The taking of property from one’s fellow man is called theft, but when it is done by the government it is called taxation. As mentioned earlier, the United States is less economically free than Switzerland for a number of reasons, but most glaringly it is because of our weakly-protected property rights. The government has rights to take away a percentage of citizens’ property each year and use it in ways the government sees fit. However, it would be more beneficial to do away with taxes and encourage charity within the country’s citizens, as forced donations are not sincere; in fact, many Americans have no idea where their tax money goes. As a country believing in the liberty to choose, why do we not have the liberty to choose where we prefer our wealth to go?[7] Stronger private property right laws would aid in this endeavor, as would a ban on taxes.

The government’s use of private property by taxation is necessary for American society to function, however. Taxation uses a percentage of every employed person’s accumulated wealth to give back to the community. While it is favorable to insist that a universal spirit of charity would fix the need for taxation, it is impossible to guarantee that American citizens would keep giving to charities if there was not a law requiring them to do so. People are intrinsically selfish; perhaps it is necessary to take some of their wealth away for personal use and put it to use for causes which benefit them directly or indirectly. After all, the money does not disappear forever – it reappears in the form of public services, beautiful natural parks, better-paved highways and interstates, national defense, and more accessible education systems.[8]

Overall, private property rights are one of the many methods to affirm the dignity of the human person. They assert that each person deserves at least something to call his or her own and to reap the rewards from using their property. Private property rights enable people to not only be sustained, but to fulfill their ambitions to go above and beyond the ordinary, to use their minds and make groundbreaking discoveries. Socialists claim that by abolishing private property laws we can begin to make everyone equal, but the opposite is true: private property right laws are the basis by which we can promote equality. As private property right laws are strengthened, more people can attain the things they need to survive, and later, they can use their property to advance themselves.

[1] Alchian, Armen A. “Property Rights.” Library of Economics and Liberty. Accessed May 2, 2015.

[2] Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum. Bernardo Aparicio, 2015.

[3] Von Mises, Ludwig. Liberty and Property. Bernardo Aparicio, 2015.

[4] Heritage Foundation. “Country Rankings.” 2015 Index of Economic Freedom. Accessed May 2, 2015.

[5] Bellis, Mary. “The History of Apple Computers.” Accessed May 3, 2015.

[6] United States Constitution. 1787.

[7] Von Mises, Ludwig. Liberty and Property. Bernardo Aparicio, 2015.

[8] “Why do I Have to Pay Taxes?” Internal Revenue Service, 2015. Accessed May 3, 2015.


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