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Jewish World Review Sept. 15, 1999 /5 Tishrei 5760

Walter Williams

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Yours and mine --
TOM BETHELL, a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution and Washington correspondent for "The American Spectator," has just penned an excellent book titled ""The Noblest Triumph: Property and Prosperity Through the Ages."

The book analyzes the history and principles of private property, an institution held in contempt by tyrants throughout history. In pursuit of social objectives such as conservation, environmentalism and income equality, Fifth Amendment private property protections are increasingly held in contempt by most Americans.

Bethell says that property plays a key role in establishing justice in society and it is the most peaceable of institutions: "In a society of private property, goods must be either voluntarily exchanged or laboriously created. As long as such ownership is protected by the state, goods cannot be easily taken by force."

That fact helps explain why private property is held in such deep contempt by tyrants. They believe they've been endowed with superior wisdom and they have the right to use force of any kind to impose that wisdom on the ordinary citizen. Part of that "wisdom" is how what we produce shall be used. The principles of private property stand in their way.

The federal income tax is perhaps the most egregious example of contempt for private property rights. Every American is duty-bound to pay his share of constitutionally mandated functions of the federal government as enumerated in Article I, Section 8 of our Constitution. But those functions account for less than one-third of Washington's spending. Most spending represents taking what one citizen earns and giving it to another citizen to whom it does not belong -- e.g., farm subsidies, food stamps, Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare and welfare.

Bethell reminds us of an observation made by Frederic Bastiat, a 19th century French philosopher-economist: A man who produces while others dispose of his product is a slave. That's the essence of slavery: one person forcibly used to serve the purposes of others.

Incidentally, if I had to list one of my greatest disappointments, it would be that black Americans who suffered through brutal slavery are one of the major supporters of America's modern slavery.

Purchasing this book
-- linked above in article --
helps fund JWR
You say, "Hey, Williams, encroachments on private property rights that you rail against are a result of a democratic process in pursuit of the public good." Nonsense! U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson reminded us in West Virginia Board of Education vs. Barnette (1943): "The very purpose of the Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One's right to life, liberty and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcomes of no elections."

The classical-liberal concept of rights is discomforting to the ruling elite. Why? It subtracts power from those who rule and distributes it among the common people. It demarcates zones where the government must keep out. In 1991, during Justice Clarence Thomas' confirmation hearings, Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., waving a copy of Takings, written by Richard Epstein, University of Chicago law professor, fretted about what would happen to Congress' ability to control our lives if it had to heed the Fifth Amendment.

An important side benefit of private property is that it lays the foundation for wealth creation and higher standards of living for the ordinary citizen. The world's richest countries are those having greater private property protections.

"The Noblest Triumph" is serious but not complicated reading; it should be a part of any home library.

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©1999, Creators Syndicate