The “Death of Private Property”?

A few days ago, I heard Greg Gutfeld — a self-styled libertarian and host of Fox News’ Red Eye — grieve the “death of private property” in his comment on homeless people squatting in Bank of America-owned houses. As a free marketer, defender of private property, and a libertarian, I’m always offended, or at the very least peeved, at the predisposition of ostensible libertarians like Gutfeld to make common cause with the likes of Bank of America, member of “the brotherhood of thieves who prey upon labor.” Given many self-identified libertarians’ instinctive reactions about private property, the subject is observably susceptible to all of the difficulties that attend hazy definitions and even more confused applications of the definitions we actually have.

And if “private property” is simply — in A.H. Simpson’s words — “defined as the sum of legal privilege,” then Gutfeld is certainly correct in making B of A the paragon of property. As an individualist anarchist, however, I define it as something rather different, as nothing more than one of the ways we ensure the law of equal liberty in practice. Of course I take it for granted that such an explanation doesn’t by itself move the ball forward very much, but it is — even without more — a stark contrast to a mere defense of monopolists. Anarchists ought to take no issue with title to land, with ownership based on cognizable and concrete labors to improve and cultivate it. That kind of “private property,” put into practice as opposed to the system of coercive class rule that we have today, wouldn’t and couldn’t abide a real estate market that puts institutions such as B of A in the driver’s seat.

Developers and mortgage-lending banks sit behind high barriers to entry and enjoy relationships with governments (from the local, to state, to national levels) that ensure their dominance of real property. Further, banks’ monopolization of credit guarantees that the only way most people will ever own real property is through hundreds of thousands of dollars in mortgage loans. All of this, apparently, is the “private property” that Gutfeld supposes we libertarians ought to be defending against the likes of squatters. Well, if this is “private property” and “libertarianism,” then I haven’t much use for either and will busy myself debunking them. I don’t, though, think that we ought to cede the terminology so easily, and neither did libertarians like Benjamin Tucker and A.H. Simpson.

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