The Property Rights Delusion

In the beginning, when the U.S. Constitution was composed, it made sense to let property rights trump human or personal rights. After all, if humans were to continue to be bought and sold, then their rights as property would be equally, if not more protective, than the rights of the individual person for whose welfare the agents of the federation was supposed to provide.

Moreover, while women and certain minority populations have insisted on equal standing, the Equal Rights Amendment for all persons has languished perhaps in part because minors are still considered the property of their parents. Imagine the mayhem if children were suddenly to insist on a right to sustenance and education and shelter! Never mind that somebody has to be at the bottom, if rising to the top is to serve as an incentive to compliant behavior.

Clearly, rights are problematic. Then, when one considers that the supposed “rights” associated with real property are actually veiled expectations that ownership will prompt adherence to duties and obligations, controversies ensue. And disappointments.

It seems logical, from the perspective of the individual, whose personal sense of security is precarious, that being surrounded by physical property one controls will serve to exclude the unwelcome attentions of the outside world. Indeed, if the proliferation of locks and keys and security systems and gates and walls are indicative, lots of people are more than willing to sacrifice liberty for a sense of security. Why? And why have private property rights come to equate with personal security?