Are Property Rights Too Impractical During a Pandemic?
Posted on November 30, 2021
Simon Fraser University study says lockdowns “one of the greatest policy failures in history”
By CK Reeder
Respect for private property rights is a huge part of this magazine’s mission.
Property rights are necessary for any civilization to prosper. The owner has the strongest moral claim about how a piece of property should be used. Few people are surprised to learn that the poorest, most backward nations on Earth are those with the least respect for these basic rights.
Putting aside thorny philosophical debates, there is no doubt that when people make choices with physical property, production and trade, money and markets and profits and losses, interfering with property rights generally leads to poor results.
“Whatever we think about the danger level of the virus, is there any surprise this monumental assault on property rights has resulted in such devastation to our communities and economies?”
To make this clear, imagine the consequences if theft were legalized (we’ll resist making obvious jokes about Ottawa here).
Property rights aren’t just morally justified in an abstract sense, they work and they are practical. We can see this by looking at how so many of the world’s problems can be solved, or at least mitigated, by property rights.
We can even see this in extreme situations like the declared global COVID-19 pandemic.
The panic over COVID-19 resulted in unprecedented government interventions, lockdowns and restrictions on our social lives.
The government has trampled all over property rights, bullying businesses, churches and even telling you whether you’re allowed to have healthy people in your own home.
Whatever we think about the danger level of the virus, is there any surprise this monumental assault on property rights has resulted in such devastation to our communities and economies?
“Property owners with skin in the game tend to make better decisions than politicians and bureaucrats. There is no special exception for ‘public health.’”
Here are a few reasons why respecting property rights would have resulted in less devastation and panic during the pandemic:
Respect for private property rights decentralizes decision-making
Right now, we are seeing the lockdown narrative fall apart more every day.
A recent cost-benefit analysis from a researcher at Simon Fraser University called lockdowns “one of the greatest peacetime policy failures in Canadian history.”
How did this happen?
Normally when a person makes a bad decision, it affects their own property and they face the consequences.
But politicians and bureaucrats make decisions for other people’s property. When they get it wrong, they still find a way to reward themselves while others suffer.
This has several severe consequences. First, centralizing decision-making increases the likelihood of error and corruption. Second, it means errors spread greater damage than otherwise, and it also restricts competition for good ideas.
Readers know property owners with skin in the game tend to make better decisions than politicians and bureaucrats. There is no special exception for “public health.”
Respect for property rights means respecting people’s right to do business together
A lot of ink has been spilled over how to treat COVID-19, with a lot of hype about vaccines. Some therapies have been marginalized for political reasons. Seemingly innocuous motherly advice like, “Take vitamins and get some fresh air” has been disparaged as dangerous — how bizarre.
The government severely restricts the production and sale of pharmaceutical products and treatments. People and their doctors should have more options to act on their own risk assessments when it comes to health decisions.
The risk issue also goes beyond that. Throughout the panic, the government unilaterally decided many activities were intolerably risky and severely handicapped not just businesses, but many other basic things in our communities that make life worth living at all.
Respecting property rights means a greater respect for people to make choices about their own lives, take their own risks and rationally deal with those risks together. People must generally be okay at doing this, otherwise the human race would have gone extinct ages ago.
Property rights are about more than “stuff” — property rights are about human dignity and respecting our neighbour’s choices
Try telling a farmer that their property is merely a piece of land — that land is part of them. And this is more than a metaphor. Through blood and sweat, triumphs and failures, they put themselves into the geography.
Property is fundamental to human existence and the flourishing of mankind. That’s why a society that sneers at property rights always increases suffering and impoverishment. In recent decades, has there been a more vicious example of this than the COVID-19 panic?
Clayton Reeder is a mergers & acquisition advisor in Calgary. He works with many clients in the oil and gas sector and owns farmland in central Alberta. He loves oil and agriculture.
Published in PIPELINE OBSERVER Summer 2021