David R. Henderson  

Property Rights ARE Human Rights

Reciprocity and Irony: A View ... Diamandis and The Diamond A...

One of the left's most effective canards has been its alleged distinction between property rights and human rights. The fact is that property rights are human rights. My right to my computer--my property--is not my computer's right to itself. It's my right, and I'm human.

So when I see someone who is on record as being a defender of human rights and that someone defends, however haltingly, her property right as a human right, that's progress. Unfortunately, in a recent case, that's not how many traditional defenders of property rights saw it; instead, they made fun of her. That was my initial reaction too, but now I've had time to rethink.

I'm referring to the case of Patricia Howson, a former investigator for the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. She complained to the Ontario Human Rights Commission that her right to build a parking space on her own property was being denied. She wanted--and wants--her right upheld. She sees her right to build a parking space on her own property as a human right.

That's progress. I don't know how consistent she will be. I wouldn't be surprised if, for example, Ms. Howson saw a neighbor's (for Canadians reading this, "neighbour's") right to build a fence on his property as not being a human right. But surely when someone who has been an advocate of human rights starts to see at least some property rights as human rights, isn't that progress? And shouldn't traditional defenders of property rights, defenders who have always understood that property rights are human rights, welcome her into the fold?

HT to Ken B.

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CATEGORIES: Property Rights

COMMENTS (9 to date)
Sam writes:

While we might view property rights as absolute, most of the time when we buy a house we make some contractual concessions to others around us. An example might be to agree not to play loud music after 9pm, or to maintain the look of the property in a particular way.

I don't know the details of this case, but if Ms Howson made some kind of contractual agreement to preserve the appearance of her front garden and is now trying to use the concept of human rights as a way to rescind that agreement, I have little pity for her.

david writes:

The reason property rights are not considered human rights can be seen in societies which did not go through Enlightenment-era or communist-era land redistribution: unless your society renounces the protection of prevailing claims to land, feudal societies translate rather easily toward both a denial of efficient property claims (grazing commons owned by unclear entities, etc. - so no enclosure, tragedy of the commons, and no capital investment) and also quasi-serfdom (one landlord owns all the arable land, rents it out for any product above subsistence, spends the surplus on maintenance of this system and fighting industrial takeoff). You can still see this across Central and South Asia today.

Left-wing politics in agricultural societies always take the form of land redistribution for a reason.

At some point it is necessary for a polity to be able to controllably illegitimize quasi-feudal 'property' relations; otherwise the existing regime itself becomes tainted. See the Lochner era in the US and the brief popularity of socialism during the late 19th/early 20th for an example.

Andrew writes:

All rights evolve from property rights. It is the sole reason government exists. 'Society' dictates just when a man and his property can be separated.

Ken B writes:

I suppose as a concerned Canadian I should really be dismayed at all this. But I just enjoy the irony too much.

Background info: the OHRC is a kangaroo court that amongst other acts of villainy censors comedians and lost a high profile censorship spat with Mark Steyn and Canada's leading, thoroughly anodyne, magazine Macleans. Until Steyn there was 100% conviction rate of those accused.

Canada is plagued with these things at the federal and provincial level. The Alberta HRC put a lifetime ban on a preacher preventing him preaching about homosexuality. Fortunately real courts have started to step in in a few cases and the federal council will have its wings clipped by a private members bill almost certain to pass.

R Richard Schweitzer writes:

Let's begin with "Property."

Property is the label applied to the concept of human relationship to material objects (so we have anomalies when app-lied to intra-human relations).

Any "Right" constituted by that relationship exists in any social order if (and only to the extent that) obligations of non-interference in the relationship are recognized, accepted and enforced as constraints.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Ken B,
All of the facts you cite are correct and they may come as news to many of our readers.
As far as I can see, though, they don’t undercut or contradict anything I wrote in the post.

Ken B writes:

Nor did I intend them to. Sometimes I even agree with you David! A circumstance we might both deplore ... :)

OK one caveat. They undercut "who has been an advocate of human rights". But I just assume the ironic disclaimer about being on record from your first para still applies.

Nyk writes:

The right to property is just an abstraction. Its existence is dependent on that of someone to guarantee it - the State, or Sovereign.

The Formalist way to look at property is far more useful and enlightening, because it describes how property is (or is not) respected in practice rather than how it ought to be respected. The ought of libertarianism is the kind of liberal utopian thinking that should be avoided; humans are imperfect beings competing for resources, not angels. Most of us would happily steal someone else's property if our survival (or that of our family) depended on it.

It is very simple: whoever has the military force to conquer and defend a property is entitled to that property. Might is right, because real Might always trumps an imaginary abstraction, i.e. the human right to property. The ones with the military force may lease the property to others, possibly with the written guarantee that there will be no interference other than a protection tax to be collected by the authorities.

Cryptomys writes:

In a strictly legal sense, the rights to life, liberty, and property may all be human rights, but are subject to different levels of due process.

The death penalty is only imposed in modern American jurisprudence after a criminal conviction and multiple levels of review, often lasting years -- what may be referred to as "super due process."

Liberty may only be taken away after a criminal conviction which requires proof beyond reasonable doubt.

On the other hand, money judgments may be rendered by civil courts requiring only proof by a preponderance of the evidence or, in some rare cases, clear and convincing evidence. In any event, both of these civil levels of proof are less than the criminal standard.

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