In a recent Herald opinion piece former NZ Prime Minister Mike Moore made a statement obvious enough to any student of history not blinded by flawed ideology: "Without secure property rights poverty will endure."
John Minto is blinded by flawed ideology. Point number one of Marx's Communist Manifesto calls for the abolition of private property. Leon Trotsky pointed out with some glee that where there is no private ownership, individuals can be easily bent to the will of the state under threat of starvation or worse. John Minto still lives in the shadows cast by these two gentlemen, leading him to place before Herald readers this morning the outrageous lie that "property rights often mean little, if anything, to people in poverty."
It's hard to know here to start with this claim. He begins by lying about poverty in the US, carries on to ignore the history of property rights and the wholesale destruction of poverty whenever property rights were protected, and concludes with his outrageous lie intended to gull careless readers into accepting his own malodorous world view.
The fact is that property rights protect our lives and the fruits of our labours -- they allow us to pan long range. As Hernando de Soto points out (de Soto being one of the folk singled out of Minto's barbs), when property rights are insecure, residents of poor shanty towns build their furniture before their walls or roofs. That's rational behaviour when time horizons are short. As property rights become more secure and their time horizons become longer, however, people can build their walls, their roofs, and then plant crops and trade and make plans that take months or even years to come to fruition. This is what it means to create wealth - wealth being the opposite of poverty, as some of you might recall.
If Mr Minto is blind to those basic facts, there's no need for you to be.
The fact is, the material values we each produce keep us alive, and allow us to flourish. Only ghosts can survive without this property; human beings cannot. Secure property rights allow us to project our values into longer and longer time horizons; the more secure, the further our horizons. They allow us to bring to bear the unmatchable power of our minds to the pursuit and creation of wealth and human flourishing.
Unlike other animals, human beings cannot survive as we come into the world; in order to stay alive and to flourish we each need to produce and to keep the fruits of our production.
Tom Bethell’s landmark book The Noblest Triumph: Property and Prosperity Through the Ages traces successes and disasters of history consequent upon the respective recognition or denial of property through the ages: Ireland’s potato famine, the desertification of the Sahara and the near-disasters of U.S. colonies at Jamestown and Plymouth can all be traced to lack of respect for property. The glorious triumph of the Industrial Revolution is the greatest vindication.
In Bethell's book (every home should have a copy), he identifies four crucial blessings of property that, he says,
cannot easily be recognised in a society that lacks the secure, decentralised, private ownership of goods. These are: liberty, justice, peace, and prosperity. The argument of [his] book [and of history] is that private property is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for these highly desirable social outcomes.
Property rights give us a Turangawaewae, a firm place to stand deserving of legal protection. Their identification and recognition was an enormous advance in intellectual history, and the practical result of their application across both history and geography has been the destruction of poverty.
It is only the poverty of stale Marxism that could blind a man to something so obvious.
FROM THE ARCHIVES: More posts on Property Rights.
UPDATE 1: Liberty Scott points out "there is a country that echoes Minto’s vision of virtually no property rights, and the sort of true democracy I was talking about – its capital is Pyongyang. Global Peace and Justice is the euphemism for Global Revolution and Socialism."