The Importance of Property Rights

It looks as through many of the occupiers in Zuccotti Park have decided to live the Marxist dream and eliminate the concept of private property. This decision has lead to predictable results that demonstrate once again the necessity of private property rights to create a peaceful society:

All belongings and money in the park are supposed to be held in common, but property rights reared their capitalistic head when facilitators went to clean up the park, which was looking more like a shantytown than usual after several days of wind and rain. The local community board was due to send in an inspector, so the facilitators and cleaners started moving tarps, bags, and personal belongings into a big pile in order to clean the park.

But some refused to budge. A bearded man began to gather up a tarp and an occupier emerged from beneath, screaming: “You’re going to break my fucking tent, get that shit off!” Near the front of the park, two men in hoodies staged a meta-sit-in, fearful that their belongings would be lost or appropriated.

Major problems arise when you remove the concept of property from a society. Humans are like any other creature on this planet when it comes to being territorial. Some people are more territorial than others but nobody likes to have their shit taken. Two humans living next to each other are likely to do well if one respects the property of the other. When one of the neighbors decides he really likes the product of his neighbor’s labor and takes it problems being to appear.

When you purchase a vehicle you like you’re not likely to be happy if somebody takes it and gives you another vehicle. Sure, the new vehicle may get you from point A to point B but it may not serve your other desires. A small care isn’t going to help a construction working haul bricks from a warehouse to the construction site. Different people have different needs and that prevents consumer goods from being universal (for instance a tent isn’t just a tent, it may have many properties that make it ideal for one person but less than ideal for another).

The concept of communal property also introduced the concept known as the tragedy of the commons. When nobody is defined as an owner of a resource and everybody utilizes it then everybody is going to grab as much of it as they can. After all they’re competing for the use of that resource with many others so it becomes in everybody’s best interest to grab up as much of if as quickly as possible. A private property owner doesn’t have this problem and actually has a strong motive to utilize the resource in as sustainable manner as possible. Farmers rotate crops to prevent damage to topsoil because having no topsoil means no crops will grow and thus no income will be made. Protecting your investment is natural because it allows you to obtain more out of the investment.

This harsh truth became readily apparent when the Soviet Union enacted their program of agriculture collectivization. After collectivization the Soviet Union went from being one of the largest exporters of grain in the world to a small player in the grain export market that also had rampant starvation to boot. Farmers had no motive to ensure land was going to be used in a manner that produces the largest yield of crops as any crops they grew were confiscated. As those crops were collective property the state decided on how to distribute them and that usually meant those in cities got a larger portion than those in rural communities (which further demotivated them from growing crops).

I hope the clashes started by establishing communal property rules in Zuccotti park remind everybody why we need strong private property rights.