Monday, August 28, 2006

The History of Property Rights

Jim Powell, has an informative article on the roots of property rights in our Greco-Roman heritage. As Powell shows in his book, The Triumph of Liberty, it took 2000 years for the concept of liberty to evolve before our Declaration of Independence could be written. But let’s go back to Rome and get a sample of the thought of one great man from Jim’s article:
Roman lawyers, the greatest of whom was Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 B.C.) asserted the principles underlying a rule of law. "Nothing is certainly more ennobling," he wrote, "than for us to plainly understand that we are born to justice, and that law is instituted not by opinion but by nature.... If the fortunes of all cannot be equal, if the mental capacities of all cannot be the same, at least the legal rights of all those who are citizens of the same state ought to be equal."
Today, one of the main problems in under-developed nations is the failure to secure property rights. Hernando DeSoto, in his book, The Mystery of Capital, explains why the poor remain poor throughout the world. Unfortunately, given recent Supreme Court decisions expanding eminent domain and the massive issuance of economic regulations by the current Congress, we had better re-examine the path we are taking.


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