“The poorest man may, in his cottage, bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown. It may be frail, its roof may shake; the wind may blow through it; the storm may enter; the rain may enter; but the King of England may not enter; all his force dares not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement”
William Pitt, on Privacy
“Every man’s house is his castle" Sir Edward Coke, Semayne’s Case, 1604
Here is the most important topic in politics. This is what separates Capitalists from Communists, top of the spectrum from the abyss. Everyone else is just something muddled in between. Either the government eradicates property rights, as under Marxism (Russia, Cuba, China, recently in parts of India, etc.) or it respects and protects them. Or it can’t make up its mind and goes first in one direction, then another, sometimes safeguarding and sometimes eradicating. That’s the kind of place Canada is.
There is a very important reason why our Canadian Charter of Rights specifically excluded the right to property. If we citizens were actually acknowledged to have a right to our property in this so-called Constitution of ours, then the government might not be able to take our stuff from us. That’s no good! That’s why the government wrote the thing, not me.
No human rights can exist without property rights. Since material goods are produced by the mind and effort of individual men, and are needed to sustain their lives, if the producer does not own the result of his effort, he does not own his life. To deny property rights means to turn men into property owned by the state. Whoever claims the “right” to “redistribute” the wealth produced by others is claiming the “right” to treat human beings as chattel.”
Ayn Rand, 1962
What does a “property right” mean?
Every man has a property in his own person. This nobody has any right to but himself. The labour of his body and the work of his hands are properly his.
John Locke, 1690
Property begins with the “self”. You must belong to yourself. If you willingly think you belong to someone else, or if someone else forces you to belong to them, and if it is enforced by a “law”, that is slavery. We all know now that that is morally wrong, although there were of course cultures that believed the law should recognize it. If you agree that slavery is wrong, you must accept that you own yourself. No one else owns you. Once you agree that I own myself, then it is no stretch to say that what I make for me, is mine. If I find food, or raise a crop, or make clothes – if not mine, then whose? And if mine, that is my “property”. And if it is my property, then I should be able, somehow, morally, to prevent others just taking it away from me. If so, I have a “property right”; a claim I can make upon the law, to protect me from depredations and encroachments by other people.
The process of producing something that wasn’t there before, whether by labour or thought (or a combination), is the process of creating “property”. John Locke spoke in the late 1600’s of the act of plucking an apple from a tree in a forest: the action of plucking, done by none other but you, is what confers ownership of the apple upon you. Your action invested you with a right to the apple, meaning that no one else could claim that apple as theirs; no one could disclaim your investment of planning and labour. Similarly, the process of clearing trees and planting crops bestowed upon you the right to the product of the soil.
“Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property. It being by him removed from the common state nature placed it in, hath by this labour something annexed to it, that excludes the common right of other men.”
John Locke, 1690
Property rights matter very much. In fact, they are so important that some people invent lies to undermine how important they are; the saying “money is the root of all evil” springs to mind. Actually, people are the root of all evil. Money just sits in bags, and no one ever said a bag was evil. No, it’s people. But then, people are also the root of all good. So actually the whole saying is goofy and unfounded. The most that could be said is that sometimes people are evil, and money is involved. Generally, the term gets said by someone who wants the money which belongs to someone else. An evil uncle wants the money that belongs to his nieces and nephews, like in the kids’ story Lemony Snickett. Well, it’s the uncle that’s evil, not the kids, and certainly not their money.
“It is not the fault of the mirror if it reflects our blemishes as clearly as our beauty.”
“The Ascent of Money; a Financial History of the World”, Niall Ferguson, 363
In Communist revolutions, it is generally the case that the State expropriates all property in the name “of the People”. (They also shoot the people with brains, and as a lawyer I would be one of the first one’s up against the wall, but that’s a different issue.) Theoretically, no one owns the property at that point, (or everyone does, which is the same), and therefore, being a meaningless concept, there is no property at all. If you don’t own what you make, as Locke suggested, then the fellow who plucks the apple or clears the meadow for crops actually does so for everyone. That’s why the Communists preach “from each according to his means to each according to his needs”. They mean, the guy that knows how to clear the meadow has to do it for all those other poor blokes who don’t know how, or are too lazy to do it for themselves. That’s why it doesn’t take very long for everyone to stop doing things: what’s the point if it’s just going to be stolen from you and distributed to others anyway?
“Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another, but let him work diligently and build one for himself, thus by example assuring that his own shall be safe from violence when built.”
In Capitalism, people make, and people keep, according to their own limits and ambitions. Because a person can keep the fruit of his labour, there is only the self-motivated incentive to keep working.
“That some should be rich, shows that others may become rich, and, hence, is just encouragement to industry and enterprise.”
Be clear about one thing: everyone is a Capitalist. You don’t have to be “rich” to be one. You simply need to respect your work as yours, and the work of others as theirs. Let’s discuss Unions for a moment. Unions (being somewhat Marxist) tend to confuse this issue; Karl Marx taught them that the Capitalists are those who “control the means of production”, meaning the machinery of industry (because they required the investment of “Kapital” to create them – hence, “Capitalists”). But that’s not true, Marx had too limited an understanding of value. The muscles in a man’s arms are the means of production, if he is a labourer. The brain in an engineer’s or a doctor’s head is the means of production for them. Almost every person is capable of trading their skills, or talents, to others to earn a living – everyone has some kind of means of production. The living they earn will relate to the rarity of and demand for their skills or talents, but they remain Capitalists as long as they respect one another’s property rights.
This is what “property” rights mean: the owner gets to decide what to do with the property.
That’s why the government of Canada left property rights out of our Constitution, and why Capitalists would put it in.