One of the recently award-winning CEDICE campaign advertisements on behalf of private property rights in Venezuela. (Translation: “The law of social property will take away what is yours. No to the Cuban law.” Image: CEDICE)
Living in the U.S., it is hard to grasp how important private property rights are. Whenever we buy, sell, or produce something we automatically assume that we own it. We don’t think about it because we live in a country where the government guarantees the right to private property. This is not, however,the case in other parts of the world. In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez has launched a mission to restrict and expropriate private property. Every day the headlines in the local newspapers in Venezuela talk about how government has “nationalized” a bank, a supermarket or a factory. One brave organization has gained international recognition for defending property rights in Venezuela as a basic human right.
I recently debated with a colleague about whether or not young people still believe in the right to private property as a core democratic value. I argued that this all depends on how deeply an individual is willing to follow the philosophical logic.
If the first thing that comes to one’s mind is a sign, which reads, “private property: no trespassing” in the middle of a pristine wilderness, thereby declaring the fact that the land is off limits of hikers, that individual probably develops a negative first impression about the meaning of property rights.
As an environmentalist and an outdoors enthusiast, I’ve been faced with this frustratingly misguided and litigious mentality before, and naturally it momentarily blinded me to the wisdom and logic of the right to private property. If, on the other hand, we look more deeply into the value of private property, we see that it has many benefits to civilization when backed up by the rule of law.
For example, private property, such as a domicile, allows us to generate collateral when we apply for a loan. Suddenly property seems like an inalienable right. That right would seem especially precious if the government knocked on our door to tell us that the building we just purchased will be commandeered for the public good, and we will be compensated at below market-value price.