A Critique of Property Rights
Property rights can be immensely helpful to society, increasing our collective productivity, motivating and inspiring people to work harder, and consequently augmenting our standard of living. There is however, another side to that coin–property rights can create a distribution of wealth that undercuts economic demand and leads to the replacement of wage-financed consumer demand with credit-financed consumer demand, leading to, as we recently collectively experienced, economic crises fuelled by unsustainable levels of private household debt. Clearly there is a balance with property–we need to maximise the benefits of this institution while minimising the societal costs. The trouble is that the political theory that lies at the foundation of right wing thinking in the Western world does not allow for this balancing, and these ideas continue to hold sway. Today I’d like to address where the difficulties in the right’s theory of property lie and what sort of negative consequences these difficulties have for the rest of us.