In a delightful essay for the Library of Economics and Liberty, economist David Henderson explains why property rights enable people to live together peacefully rather than fight over preferences and resources through the political system.
Henderson opens with the questions, “Should restaurants allow smoking or not? Should schools teach evolution or intelligent design or both? Should insurance companies cover contraception? Should I be able to take off my shoes in your living room?” He then notes, “You might think that that last question doesn’t belong with the first three”—and he proceeds to make crystal clear why it does.
Although some of Henderson’s wording might be taken as a concession to moral or intellectual subjectivism, his broader point implies no such thing. For instance, he writes that we decide how to use our property based on our “subjective estimation” of different alternatives. And, on the subject of whether schools should teach creationism or evolution, he asks, “What if what one person thinks is true another person thinks is false?” But recognizing property rights is perfectly consistent with acknowledging that heavy smoking is objectively harmful to one’s life, that evolution is demonstrably true while creationism is patently false, and that in a free market it makes little economic sense to insure routine and inexpensive goods such as contraception.
Henderson’s article shows, by way of a few vivid examples, that the recognition and protection of property rights is essential to individuals living harmoniously in society. Read the entire article.
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