Private property rights under siege – Part I

Warkworth Castle” by Draco2008 is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to argue that private property rights, as understood by classic liberal thinkers, by those who embrace Austrian economic theory and by all member of an enlightened society, are not only the cornerstone, but also the last defense of human civilization and the Western way of life in particular. Nothing stands a chance without this premise. No prosperity can ever come about or even maintained, none of the civil liberties and human freedoms we so often take for granted these days, no innovation in business, technology or science. The respect of the individual’s property is at the heart of most of our freedoms and when the State or any other central authority crosses this big red line, it causes all kinds of other dominoes to fall as well, creating an incredibly precarious slippery slope. This erosion of liberty might be slow, but it certainly is steady and much like a frog in boiling water, most citizens only realize the risks they’re facing only when it’s too late to do anything about it.

A relentless campaign 

The incursion of the State into their citizen’s lives, business, savings and fundamental human liberties, like free speech, is certainly nothing new. In fact, it is a concerted campaign that has been going on arguably since the first form of centralized government emerged. Even without the (rather safe) assumption that megalomania and pathological thirst for power and control over other people was the core motivator for this, there have always been those amongst us that thought they knew better what’s best for us and were too eager to “help” and “save” us. However, this push towards further centralization has seen a significant acceleration over the past couple of decades.

After the consolidation of power by mostly unelected EU bureaucrats and technocrats in Europe and the erosion of state powers in the US in favor of federal authorities and countless agencies, the needle really moved and although it didn’t happen from one day to the next, it certainly set the West on the path of more and more centralization. Toxic ideologies and misanthropic world views, like those promoted by the Frankfurt School and their long march through the institutions, were of considerable help along the road. Window-dressing State control and massive wealth redistribution policies as “welfare” and promoting them as each citizen’s “duty” to “give back”, aided in the disguise of what was really taking place. Property rights became conditional. If a thief steals your money, you have every right to complain and he’ll go to prison. But if the State does the same, then only a sociopath would complain, because it is providing you and your neighbors with all kinds of “free” stuff. Only a self-responsible person and the enlightened minority understand that government can only give what it has stolen before. Most of the citizens still believe in the nanny-state myth and in free lunches.

This idea in particular appears to have stuck more than anything else: the concept of “free” and of “public goods”. Especially in Europe and in much of the Commonwealth, there is to this day not only a clear understanding, but also an expectation in the minds of most citizens that things like education and healthcare are and must always be “free”. Hardly anyone stops and questions what this means, and how services that obviously cost incredible amounts of money can ever be free. The same goes every time there’s an election around the corner and the incumbent governments start throwing all kinds of subsidies and extra welfare benefits from helicopters. The recipients of these checks, even when they are taxpayers themselves, still perceive these payments as government assistance, as though their Prime Minister or President and all their cabinet members simply reached into their own pockets, out of the kindness of their hearts.

Of course, once wealth redistribution became established as the norm, it also became much easier to push a much more aggressive agenda. Once again, with the aforementioned ideological and political “packaging”, a fierce hatred started to take root, dividing our societies in extremely dangerous ways, but also really expediting the concentration of power in the hands of the few. We saw a huge escalation of this in the last 25 years.

The “rich”, the “1%”, the “privileged” and the “greedy capitalists”, are all terms that attempted to describe some largely mythical group of people that had their boots on the throats of everybody else. At first, it was just money that made someone instantly evil and thereby justified using State force to dispossess them. However, this soon expanded to success in general. Just being better than one’s peers, working harder, cultivating a particular talent, it all became reason enough for anyone to become a member of that hated group.

Naturally, this is all part and parcel of the wider “divide and conquer” strategy that most politicians still use today – perhaps more than ever. And once they legitimized the penalization of job creators and innovators by means of encroachment upon their property rights, it was much easier to deny them their other rights too. And as for those who might still find that idea rather pleasing, mainly due to envy and under the assumption that they will never count themselves among the members of this “elite”, it always useful to remind them that when the State says it is only targeting the “1%”, it is always a pure lie. The “1%” is not the percentage that is actually suffering the tax hikes and it most certainly isn’t just those that are better off that pay the price.

Policymakers are always trying to maximize the profit they get out of each power and money grab they sign into law. Thus, the new tax that is supposed to target “evil multinationals” almost always affects much smaller enterprises too, local businesses and mom and pop shops. But even more importantly, unlike governments, most private companies operate under rational, basic economic dynamics. “Profit-driven” has turned into something of a curse word these days, but it still is what makes the entire world go round, what pays wages and what stocks our grocery store shelves. And so, tax burdens are calculated by businesses, both large and small alike, as part of their costs, and if they squeeze their bottom line, they are simply passed on to the consumer. Therefore, everyone pays for this property rights violation, not just its stated “targets”.

In the upcoming second part, we look at the impact of the last two years and we consider the property rights implications for the future.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

© Claudio Grass, Hünenberg See, Switzerland 2022