Property Rights and Peoples' Rights
Property Rights and Peoples' Rights
by Richard “Chip” Peterson, PhD, Aug. 5, 2010
When the U.S. was founded, there was some concern that both property
rights and individuals' rights would be protected by the new form of government.
Originally, the 13 states had been formed and run by for commercial and
mercantile interests. Britain and its landgrantholders had benefitted from the
colonies success through their manipulation of trade and tariffs and rental
incomes. Many of the founders of the country had commercial and mercantile
interests of their own, and, originally, states restricted suffrage to those who
owned property, particularly land, that ensured that voters
would be strongly attached to their community and to community interests.
Thus, there was no question that property rights would be preserved given the
nature of the nation's first voters.
There was concern, however, that the rights of non-propertied individuals
would also be represented. It was thought best to do so by having a legislative
body with at least one house consisting of representatives of the public by
public consent. The idea of a direct Democracy was rejected in
favor of a Republic with representatives carrying the will of the people
to the legislative body. The idea of a direct Democracy with public voting
determining all outcomes was rejected based upon the writings of Aristotle.
Aristotle had noted that a pure democracy was deficient since demagogues could
excite and direct the emotions of the people and cause them to make hasty,
intemperate, decisions that did not respect the rights of minorities.
In Britain, the House of Lords had represented propertied interests while
the House of Commons represented the interests of the common man. That may have
generated the interest in a bicameral legislature, that would represent the
rights of each class of people. However, in the U.S. The bicameral nature of the
legislature was divided between the House of Representatives designed to
represent the interests of the public in general and the Senate, which was
originally designed to represent the interests of the individual states. While
members of the House were to be elected by popular vote of those who had
suffrage, members of the Senate were to be appointed by their respective state
legislatures. Indirectly, propertied interests may have been reflected by the
Senate since state legislatures usually represented commercial and mercantile
interests in each state.
It was thought useful to have the legislative process represent
commercial and mercantile interests since government enforcement of the rule of
law and the enforcement of contracts was essential to the prosperity of those
interests. At the same time, it was essential to have the interests of persons
also represented so that excesses in the name of commercial interests could be
avoided. Such excesses might include such things as debtors prisons or
involuntary indentured servitude.
Protection of the rights of minorities was assured by a complicated
government system with divided executive, legislative, and judiciary functions
that contained many checks and balances to limit
the arbitrary abuse of power by any one branch. These protections were
enhanced by various
requirements for supermajority voting, including supermajority
requirements for amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
The new U.S. Constitution seemed to achieve a good balance between the
various interests as the U.S. economy survived and prospered in the new country.
At the same time, America was a
land with many individual freedoms
that attracted many people to immigrate from around the world. The main sore
point was the legalization of slavery that persisted until the Civil War.
However, in 1913, two Amendments to the Constitution were approved that
may have had significant adverse consequences. The 16th Amendment
allowed for a national income tax that has subsequently led to a concentration
of financial resources and the power of the purse at the Federal government
level. This has significantly weakened the power of the states relative to that
of the Federal government as they often must do the Federal government's bidding
and jump through hoops just to reclaim a portion of the tax revenues that their
citizens have rendered to the Federal authorities. In addition, the 17th
Amendment allowed for the direct popular election of U.S. Senators to represent
each state. The individual state legislatures were no longer involved in the
selection of senators to represent their interests. Consequently, the interests
of the commercial and mercantile people, i.e., many of the people who possessed
property in each state, were less well represented at the national legislative
At the same time, popular interests became
disproportionately more powerful in the national legislature, so property
rights, in general have become less well protected since the 17th
amendment was passed.
Some intrusions on private property rights have been apparent for years
as the environmental protection agency and endangered species acts have denied
property owners certain rights in the use of their land. Some of those
restrictions may be justified when they prevent people from using their land in
ways that might harm others, but others, such as spotted owl or snail darter
protection requirements, primarily represent the taking of private property
usage choices from the hands of private owners. While those restrictions
typically reduce the value of
private property, their effect has paled in comparison with more recent
intrusions against private property rights and the sanctity of contract law.
The loss of property rights has become quite apparent in recent years,
particularly under the rule of the Obama Administration and the Democratic Party
controlled Senate and House of Representatives. The Obama administration has
overridden the sanctity of contract law by placing the interests of its
political supporters (labor unions) above those of legitimate debt holders in
its takeover of General Motors. The legislature and Obama Administration have
also allowed people to default upon their mortgage obligations with none of the
previous penalties attached to debt defaults. Eventually, this will result in
losses or reduced earnings for capital owners who have made the loans--
including pension funds who have invested monies on the behalf of potential
retirees. In addition, under the Obama Administration's guidance the
Environmental Protection Agency has declared that carbon dioxide—which
basically is a plant food and is beneficial and not harmful to all carbon based
lifeforms when present in moderate amounts-- is a pollutant that should be
regulated. The proposed regulations and legislation by the Democrats would
massively increase the cost of production in the U.S. and
raise peoples' utility bills, energy costs, and prices of domestically
More ominously, propertied interests now perceive that the present U.S.
government is no longer honoring the rule of law and protecting private property
rights. They also see that the U.S. government
is using U.S. businesses as cash cows rather than encouraging them to
increase their after-tax profits and production. Consequently, business is no
longer investing aggressively in the U.S.
and the U.S. recovery from its recent recession has stagnated. In addition, a
number of U.S. Corporations who do business in other parts of the world are
moving their business operations, and even their headquarters, elsewhere.
Consequently, unless the U.S. quickly recaptures the respect for the rule of law
and private property rights that accompanied its founding, it can expect to
languish or decline economically.
Email Chip with any questions., Chippete@aol.com
Richard Peterson Campaign, Richard Peterson treasurer