Our country is founded on the belief that every single person has a right to life, liberty, and property. Today, Brittany and Connor discuss how property became a defining characteristic of free and independent people and why this is still so important today.
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- John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government
- Declaration of Independence Text
- Magna Carta
- Libertas Research on Property Rights
Here is the transcript of our conversation:
Connor: Hey Brittany.
Brittany: Hey Connor
Connor: I own property Now there are different kinds of property. Brittany, you own property as well. There’s something called real property, which is kind of a weird word cuz real property doesn’t mean it really exists. It means that it’s land basically. So my wife and I have a home and we bought the first, we bought the land, and then we later built our home. So I own some land. In fact, fun, quick story. Well, I think I bought it, I may have leased it, but one year for Christmas, the boy acts come from Scotland. They used to be the Boiks And so there’s this company in Scotland that has a bunch of land in this random place and they sell you, or maybe it’s a lease, which kind of means you’re renting it. But I think they actually sell. Yeah, they actually sell it to you.
They sell you a one-square-foot piece of land. Okay? So if you think you put your feet together and you’re standing, you put a ruler, draw a box, Randy, the size of land that I owe in Scotland, but it apparently allows me to be called Lord Connor Boyack. Really? That’s exciting. So you are Lord. So for my whole family for Christmas, my mom is Lady Boyack and my dad is Lord Boyack. And it’s just this fun little gift that they do that is so fun. Cause I guess people who have title to the property, then they can call themselves lady and Lord. Yes, they do. But that’s real property, that’s land. Okay. And then you, do you rent an apartment, Brittany? I rent an apartment. Okay, so you don’t own real property, but you do own tangible property. I do, yes.
So tangible property is the name for stuff. It’s the things that you own. So it’s your car, it’s your computer, it’s your clothes, it’s everything else, your cell phone. So that’s all tangible property. Now when we talk about property rights, typically we’re talking about real property. It’s like, hey, on my land or the land that I’m renting, the condo that I’m in and so forth I have property rights, I have the right to do certain things with my property and no one else can stop me. Now, property rights I think are really important. We talked in the past, Brittany, about the Declaration of Independence, and you remember of course, that Thomas Jefferson talked about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And this was a very kind of popular terminology at the time. It was changed a little bit to be the pursuit of happiness when in fact, prior to that, a lot of people like John Locke we’ve talked about, he was a very smart Englishman who wrote a lot about what good government looks like. And the founding fathers really often relied upon what John Locke and others wrote. And in John Locke’s writings and others, he talked about not life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, but life, liberty, and property. So let me ask you, Brittany, obviously life is very important and liberty is very important. Why in the world would John say that land is as important to be on the same list as your life and your freedom, your liberty?
Brittany: Well, I have a feeling by the end of this episode we’re gonna have a clear answer to this question.
Connor: One would hope.
Brittany: One would hope but I mean there are a lot of reasons for that. For one, and I love the way John Locke talks about this, he talks about the land and especially land that you take care of yourself. Cuz back in John Locke’s day, you were taking care of your own land. You probably had farms or you had crops and you were taking care of it, that your property was the fruit of your laborers. And I loved the way he talked about that because you work to maintain your land, maybe you work to pay for the land. And so he calls it the fruit of your laborers and you have the right to the fruit of your laborers. I thought that was a really poetic way to say it.
Connor: I think that’s right. Property rights were so considered, so important by the founding fathers because it was understood that your life obviously is I have the right to live, to exist. And then your liberty is like, hey, I can do certain things and no one can stop me. I have the right to do the different things that I want to do. But then property, it’s like, oh, and then I have the right to own a house like a big whip. But really when you look through history, it is so important because if you lived on the King’s land, then the king controlled you and he could kick you off the land or he could tell you to do certain things. You were basically kind of like a slave in a way.
Brittany: They call him kind of like a surf, right? Or Yep.
Connor: Yeah, a surf. There are so many quotes where the founding fathers, for example, were talking about the importance of property rights. Samuel Adams for example, said among the natural rights of the colonists is these first a right to life. Secondly to liberty and thirdly to property together with the right to defend them in the best manner that they can. So there we see again life, liberty, and property. And so the property was very much about like, Hey, I’ve come to America and I wanna build a farm and I wanna provide for my family and I don’t want the government to come snooping through my house anytime they want. And I want to be able to control what I do on my property. This is mine. I’m kind of a king of my own property, self-government here with my family. So it very much was this ability to say I wanna set my own rules. I wanna have some kind of freedom in my own house, on my own land. And no one else should be able to control what I do because if there are no property rights, if I have some land, then everything is kind of subject to what other people say. Let’s say your city council or the people in your community who vote on, they’re like, Hey, I think everyone should have pink garages.
Brittany: I was gonna say the zoning. Zoning boards are the worst.
Connor: It’s like zoning or even it gets into kind of HOAs how homeowners associations where they set rules and you can’t have a flag and you must paint your fence a certain color brown. And if your weeds get taller than two inches, then you’re gonna be punished or you can’t have chickens.
Brittany: Some people say you can’t have gardens in your front yard. Some couples got fined by their city because they were allowed to have gardens in their backyard but not in their front yard.
Connor: And that’s very, that’s that particular law is very common because cities are like, Oh, we don’t like the look of it, so we’re just gonna say you can’t do it or think of Airbnb. You’re not allowed to share your home with anyone else. You can do it if it’s for free if grandma’s coming over for the week. But if they pay you, then it’s suddenly banned. And so, or even lemonade stands, I’m selling lemonade on my driveway, and up comes the cop to say, No, you can’t do that. So these are the reasons why property rights are important. It’s like, Hey, I’m not hurting anyone and I’m on my own property minding my own business and so I should be allowed to do it. Now property rights were super important to the founding fathers. What’s super interesting though is that in the Bill of Rights, we’ve talked about the different amendments to the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. It does say some things about property rights, but not a lot. And so I wanna talk a little later about what states, and state governments have to do with property rights. And so in the US Constitution, there are two amendments that I think really kind of come into play. The first and
Brittany: The first one, I’m interested to know what the second one is.
Connor: So the first one is, I’ll start with the more common one. The first is the Fifth Amendment. Dealing with them, eminent domain, and The Tuttle Twins and the road to Serfdom talks about this talking about some land that’s taken by the government for some purposes that they have. And so that’s eminent domain. And the fifth Amendment, says the government can’t take property this way unless they kind of compensate the other individual. They have to pay them. They can’t just take the money and say, Ha, it’s ours. It’s like, well if the government wants to use the property for a park or a road or something like that, they can take it, but they at least have to pay the person. And so that’s important because.
Brittany: Usually they don’t get very much or they get the fair minimum
Connor: Yeah, technically they’re required to pay them a fair price
Brittany: Or market value, I think is what they call it.
Connor: Yeah, but you’re right, it doesn’t always end up, if you were to sell it on your own, you could make more so. But it is better than not having that amendment where the government can just say, Oh, it’s eminent domain, we need this land. See you later. That would be awful. So the Fifth Amendment does say that just compensation is required basically a fair price. And if you feel like you’re not getting paid a lot, you can fight in court and things like that. But that obviously costs a lot of money too. The other amendment in the Bill of Rights that has to do with property rights is the amendment right before that. It’s the fourth amendment that we talked about before. Exactly. And this deals with the right of privacy, the right to not have the government snooping around in your computer or in your home to have police kind of bang down the door and try and take stuff outta your house.
They can’t just do that. And if you remember back in the colonist’s day, they had the red coats, the British military, and they would just let themselves in, they would write themselves what were called Ritz of assistance. And basically, just a piece of paper saying, Hi Thomas Solomon. Do hereby authorize me to enter all the houses on the street. And then citing that piece of paper would allow the soldiers to just go in and search for whatever they wanted. So the founders were like, No, Fourth Amendment, we’re gonna say that you need to have a judge approve it and it has to be narrow. In other words, you can’t just say every house on the street. You have to say, if we suspect Brittney of breaking the law, then we can only go into Brittney’s house.
Brittany: Look for very specific things too right?
Connor: Precisely. And if let’s say Brittney’s in an apartment with three other roommates, then the warrant has to be for Brittney’s bedroom only and not the other bedrooms. Cuz those people still have their right to privacy. And so it has to be very narrow and they have to say, here’s specifically what we want. We wanna find her computer or we’re going after her dirty laundry basket cuz there’s something smelly in there, something fishy. So they have to be very narrow. And so that’s another good property rights thing. I have the right to be left alone on my property and if the government wants to boss me around or come snoop on me, then they have some limits in place that restrict how they can do that. It’s not just willy-nilly open for the government to do whatever they want. They’re at least some controls in place. So I think those two are taken together. We could even talk about the third amendment. That’s kind of a silly one.
Brittany: I Thought you were gonna go there. That was mine, I forgot about the clip.
Connor: The third amendment is all about quartering soldiers, which during the revolutionary time, the colonial era, the military could just come in and say, Oh, we’re gonna now use your house, see you later. And they, they’d either kick the family out or they could stay there and just use an extra room. But they were requiring colonists to basically provide housing for soldiers. And it was so upsetting for the founding fathers kind of that generation as they put the third amendment in place to say, you can’t do that. You cannot quarter or house soldiers inside people’s homes. So that’s kind of another property rights thing. But I’d say we don’t really deal with that anymore.
Brittany: I was gonna say, what’s interesting about that is so we’re finding that we’re against Britain, they were the ones violating our property rights. But property rights in many ways are a British thing. So it’s kind of funny cuz you saw that they were going against their own common laws, they would call it because I think it was 1215, you guys have probably seen Robin Hood. I hope you have seen the cartoon, Robin Hood. Well, Prince John, obviously was not thinking what is he was a lion or a tiger or something
Connor: Something Like that.
Brittany: Like that, yeah. Well that the person he’s supposed to be portraying, there was King John who was very, very abusive to his people. He would take their property if they weren’t paying their taxes, and he would tell them what to do. And they actually held him at Sword Point. And by then, I mean property owners, people, the nobles, the people who were well off enough to own land, were able to fight back and make him sign a document that promised to respect the rights of property owners. And that was kind of the foundation of us writing down somewhere on paper that the right to property is just that a right is a natural right? You don’t have to do anything but be born and in this case have a property that’s kind of been extended as we progressed as a civilization. But back in the day, so long as you owned property that gave you the right to say to the king, No, you can’t do this to me, you can’t treat us like that. You can’t put soldiers in our house. You can’t take our house. If we were a little bit short on our tax payments. So that actually started in England and then eventually they kind of lost their way. But that’s something that has been solidified in our American legal documents.
Connor: And it’s interesting too because as we’ve been talking about in the US Constitution, there are some restrictions on the government, but I would say they’re very minor cuz the government is not really quartering soldiers anymore. And they’re not snooping on everyone. They do go after people that are suspected of committing a crime. That’s the fourth amendment about privacy. And they don’t do eminent domain. Very often it happens, but it doesn’t happen to most people. And so you might look at that and be like, Oh, okay, well for the rest of us, property rights are doing fine except we were listing out the lemonade stand and the Airbnb and the garden in the front house and the chickens in the backyard. And so when you think about it, the property rights are really violated not by the federal government, which is controlled by the Constitution, violated or threatened by your local government, by typically your city, your town, your county.
So what’s really interesting, Brittany is a few years ago here at Libertas Institute, we did a study where we looked at every different state in the country and we looked at the state constitutions because just like there’s the US Constitution for the whole country, every state also has its own constitution. When it was created saying, here are your rights, and here’s how we’re gonna restrict the government. And so we looked at all the different state constitutions and we said, Okay, what did they all say about property rights? Because if property rights isn’t really a national thing, it’s more like a local thing, then the idea was, okay, there’s probably gonna be something here about property rights. And so we looked at all the states, and we were shocked. So basically all of the states do pretty well at saying you have the right to own property, which is obvious.
I can buy a house, I can buy some land, or whatever. And so that’s obvious and easy. The government doesn’t come along and say, Oh Brittany, you’re not allowed to buy that house. That just doesn’t really happen. But these state constitutions say you have the right to own property. They also say that you have the right to defend. A lot of the states say you have the right to defend your property. So again, if bad guys are coming into your home, you can defend yourself, defend your property and say, don’t come to steal my jewelry or my silverware or whatever. And so you can defend your property, you can say, this is my property, you’re not allowed to be here. Get off. And then they also say, you have the right to acquire property. You have the right to buy and to get property. So you have the right to get, let’s say a house.
You have the right to own that house and stay there. And then you have the right to defend your house. That seems reasonable. I mean that seems like they’ve covered property rights except basically no state has protection for what is actually being threatened with property rates. If you think about the examples we shared, the Airbnb, the chickens, and so forth, the government’s not saying you can’t own your property, you can’t own your house. They’re not saying that. They’re not saying you can’t acquire or buy your house. They’re not saying you can’t defend it if some bad guy comes on. But what there’s no protection for in the constitution in these cons state constitutions is where the government is actually really threatening property rights in our day. And that is the right to use your property. What’s the point of buying a house or a piece of land if the government says, Oh yeah, you can buy it, you can acquire it, you can own it, you can defend it even.
But we get to tell you how you’re allowed to use it. Like, oh my gosh, yeah, that doesn’t make any sense. right? How have we missed this? And so governments have basically this open-ended ability right now to say, to boss you around people on your city council or a majority of your neighbors, it’s never okay for the majority of people to boss around the minority. And yet that’s what we kind of have in our government today, unfortunately. And so a majority of people could say, Oh, we don’t want chickens, we don’t ’em, we think they’re dirty and noisy. And so they can pass a law and they can then say, no chickens. So now the minority, let’s say there are 10 families in the whole city who want chickens. And they would’ve kept them quietly and cleanly and everything else, but now they’re criminals if they do it right because they want to use their property a certain way.
But the government has said no. And those people have no property rights protections. They have known part of the constitution that protects them. They’re just at the mercy of the government to tell them how they can use their own property. I’ll Wrap up on this point, Brittany, before, I’ll throw it back to you for a final comment. I was talking with a lawyer a couple of years ago and this lawyer works a lot on property rights issues. It’s kind of his specialty. And I was kind of complaining a little bit. I was like, man, this and that and the other, and look at all these problems. And he said, Connor, the thing I’ve learned the most about property rights in all my career is that your neighbors have more control over your property than you do, right? Because I buy a home and I don’t really get to control what I’m allowed to do.
My neighbors through the government can boss me around and pass laws and say, No lemonade stands and no Airbnb, and your garage has to be pink or whatever. They basically have the legal authority through the law, the government, to tell me what I am and am not allowed to do on my own property. And even though I can buy that property and I can defend that property, I can’t really control very well what I’m allowed to do cuz nothing’s in the constitution. This seems to me like a really kind of glaring problem in property rights.
Brittany: And just to my knowledge, my final thoughts on private property, I would be cautious or wary of anybody who doesn’t believe in property rights because there’s a lot of ideologies, communism, socialism, where they actually don’t believe in this. They don’t believe you have a right to personal or private property. And that to me is terrifying because we’ve seen, as we’ve talked about today, the property has given us so much freedom. It’s given us the ability to stand up for government. Whether or not that always happens, like you bring up Connor on the state level, it has helped make us freer. So definitely understand why it’s so important and be cautious of ideologies that don’t agree with that. So those are my final thoughts
Connor: That that’s a great point to end on. I will note that on our show notes page for today, we will link to the research we did. We put together a little policy brief. So for the adults, if you’re interested in learning more about this you can go to tuttletwins.com/podcast and look for this episode you’ll be able to find the link there and we’ll maybe link you to an essay by John Locke as well. Yes, that deals with property rights
Brittany: and The Magna Carta as well.
Connor: Oh, perfect. Yeah. And the Magna Carta. So good resources. Head to tuttletwins.com/podcast. Guys, property rights are so important and from my perspective, there’s a lot of work to be done. So you can go check out that policy brief on the show notes page and share it with some folks or anyone in your community who’s working on this stuff cuz this is very important. Until Brittany, thanks for chatting. Until next time, Brittany, thanks for chatting and we’ll see you next time.
Brittany: See You next time.