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The struggle for property rights


Anglo-Saxons lost homes and land when Normans swept into Britain in 1066, and the memory was still painful a thousand years later. Even I, a child reading a child’s history of England, was conscious of it. I saw the theme of dispossession and the flagrant disregard of property rights provoking Magna Carta, and shared the despair of the bachelor knights who fought for reform and became the Dispossessed in 1265.

I did not realize it, but these traumatic events, repeated thousands of times, instilled a fierce resolve. The British developed property rights in their Common Law and the will and means to defend them. Their prosperity and freedom, and the prosperity and freedom of people in America and the Anglosphere, are due in great part to their property rights.

For a long time the idea meant nothing to me. No one explained what having a right to property might mean.

A man who does is international economist Hernando de Soto. He argues that lack of property rights have proved catastrophic to Third World peoples. Lacking property rights they lack the collateral to build businesses. They cannot obtain credit. They are vulnerable to thugs. They cannot share ownership and risk in companies, and they lack the trust and confidence that arise in knowing that stealing will be punished by the law.

I hope I'm not boring you. Ever since I first read Robin Hood I have loathed men like the Sheriff of Nottingham. Even a little girl could see that high taxes and property seizures were unfair and had to be stopped, and I daresay if you read Robin Hood you felt the same way. You probably saw far better than I exactly why attacking a family's property rights could destroy them and why those rights had to be protected.