Beginner's Guide to Peace - Reaching Higher Ground
“If a man could mount to heaven and survey the mighty universe,
In all but the most primitive economies,
The concept of property does not necessarily require direct possession or control and this is where things can get complicated. Because it is impossible for modern humans to carry all the tools, clothes and other accoutrements of civilization,
Property Rights and Harmonious Order
As bands of mobile hunter-gathers began the transition to sedentary farming, they had to
Over time, as the requirement for the majority of people to work the fields faded, and as more people entered craft, trade and other occupations, the concept of money developed as another way of tracking individual production, perhaps first in the form of rare materials such as gemstones or precious metals and later as more abstract representations of wealth such as paper currency or bank certificates of deposit. All of this served as a further refinement of what is defined as property.
Watch Your Step: Public vs Private Property
It is quite easy to be tripped by words, to be led astray by misunderstanding and ambiguity. Words, after all, are only approximations of reality. They are abstractions. Additionally, words can have multiple meanings, some of which may even be contradictory.
One example is the word "public". In the United Kingdom educational institutions funded by tuition fees and private donations are called "public" schools whereas in the U.S. they are called "private" schools. In the United States "public" schools are in fact
Similarly, in the United States what is called "public property" is not really owned by the public at all but is totally controlled by governments at various levels. You may consider yourself part of the public but you have little or no say in how the property is actually used.
History shows that
In the United States, large swaths of public land have been poisoned by toxic
U.S. citizens that survived the atomic bomb tests continue to be mistreated as they and their children are squeezed to pay massive and growing clean-up bills for past, present and future wars. One project to decontaminate a former nuclear weapons development site in Hanford, WA will cost taxpayers over $40 billion for the six decade project. Unfortunately this is just a fraction of the total cost of the State's mismanagement of public land as the government has determined that there are as many as 2700 additional "defense" sites in need of environmental clean-up.
Peoples and habitats in former Communist countries like the Soviet Union likely fared even worse. The
A commons is any area or natural resource that can be used freely with little or no restriction. Like government controlled property, resources held "in commons" tend to be poorly managed.
In the 1830's, the idea of a
This theory has since been supported by numerous observations of overgrazing, overfishing and large scale pollution of commonly held land, water and air resources across the globe.
Whether it be the protection of land or the maximization of its productivity, a realistic understanding of human nature and a basic knowledge of history suggests that the most beneficial type of ownership is privately owned property. This private property can be controlled by
Like the view that can be experienced from a mountain top, a broad examination of history can provide us with a much improved perspective.
One thing that is certain is that people in the past often struggled through extremely harsh times. In looking at early American history we find that the members of both the Jamestown and Plymouth colonies suffered mightily in their first years of operation. At Plymouth, barely half of the original 103 settlers survived the first year. The colonists at Jamestown fared even worse. By 1616, after nine years of operation, only 350 of the original 1600 immigrants to the settlement remained, most having died of starvation and disease.
Now move ahead several centuries to Europe and Asia. In the late 1920's and 1930's, in the newly established Soviet Union, it was not hundreds or even thousands but literally
While the type of rule at these various locations may have differed, they did have one thing in common. What connects all of these failures is
Fortunately in all four places the benefits of private property were eventually recognized. In the two American colonies, after several years of hardship the rules were changed to allow for private ownership of land.
Unfortunately, in both the Soviet Union and China, citizens suffered unnecessarily for decades longer as the communists rulers were much slower to change.
In the late 1980's, as the Soviet economy floundered, the newly appointed Gorbachev led his nation into a program of Perestroika, or restructuring, allowing for some private ownership of businesses in a desperate attempt to save the communist government. Inevitably the collectivist system was abandoned as the communist Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991.
In China, while the communist party has been able to maintain its rule into the 21st century, it has only done so by allowing the
As noted above, governments do not necessarily use property in the best interest of the public or the environment. In contrast, individuals and groups the world over have used their private resources to buy land and other property for
In the U.S.,
People in countries as diverse as Chile, Kenya and Columbia have also purchased large and small tracks of land for reserves.
The topic of "Private property and the environment" is further explored in an upcoming chapter called Treacherous Roads. In the next chapter we will be Surveying the Landscape to discover the wealth that is all around us.
- Property is a method of recognizing and protecting each individual’s productive output.
- The accurate accounting and delineation of property is vital in mitigating conflicts between groups and individuals.
How Communism Almost Ruined the First Thanksgiving by Richard M. Ebeling.
Money is convenient medium of exchange that has been used for millennia but is often manipulated and corrupted by governments to ill effect. See What has the Government Done to Our Money?, also by Murray Rothbard.
Economic Principles: Cooperation and Prosperity - A free, condensed 8 lesson course on economic principles. Covers topics such as the "broken window fallacy", the benefits of economic freedom and the hidden costs of government interventions (the seen and unseen).
Picture Credits^ Cooperation: Photochroms of Istanbul. Barbers near Seraskerat, circa 1895. ^ Property Rights: Photochrom of Pilatus Alps, Switzerland, date unknown. ^ Golden Dreams: Prospector. California gold rush, circa 1850. Public domain image downloaded from Wikimedia Commons. ^ This Is Not a Pipe: The Treachery of Images. Painting by Rene Magritte, 1929, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). ^ Warning: Hazardous and Dangerous. Source - US Government. ^ Benefits: First Steps. Painting by Vincent van Gogh, 1890. Public domain image downloaded from Wikimedia Commons. ^ Perspective: Lake Placid, photo by Andrew Lesko. ^ Mound of Skulls: Dead people of Cambodia. Photo by G.Konstantina, used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. ^ One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich: Written by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, published in 1962. Amazon books link. ^ Natural Rights: Costa Rican monkey, photo by Andrew Lesko.