NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Protecting Property Rights

January 31, 2003

The United States enjoys considerable security of property rights, which encourages freedom and economic progress, especially when compared to other countries around the world. But no matter how well specified the property rights are, anarchy may still prevail if people do not share a belief in the property rights system, according to authors Terry L. Anderson and Laura E. Huggins.

In "The Essential Right," the authors conclude that a country's citizens must believe in limited government and respect the rights of others in order for property rights to exist. However, this must be built on a foundation of constitutions, federalism and common law.

  • Economist Bruce Yandle has described the Fifth Amendment as America's chief property rights wall, a wall that preserves resources and allows government and liberty to coexist while enabling society to prosper and flourish.
  • Federalism and property are connected because delegation of power to lower levels of government promotes accountability by making the costs and benefits of government actions more transparent.
  • Common law provides a way for property rights to evolve from the bottom up through judicial decisions based on historical legal precedents developed over hundreds of years.

Ultimately, protecting property rights requires citizens who understand the importance of this institution; who recognize limited government is a necessary condition for protecting property rights; and who are willing to elect political agents prepared to defend property rights and limit government's reach.

Source: Terry L. Anderson and Laura E. Huggins, "The Essential Right," Hoover Digest, No. 4, 2002, Hoover Institution.

 

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