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The Third Right: Property

No person shall…be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…

U.S. Constitution, Amendments, Article V (excerpt)

The third right is the right to property. This right encompasses some of the rights enumerated in the U.S. Bill of Rights, as well as many of the “others” mentioned in the Ninth Amendment. No just government can exist that does not acknowledge that human beings have the right to property. Any government that fails to acknowledge this is inherently unjust.

In short, the right to property ensures that individuals can purchase, create, or otherwise acquire property, that what they own is theirs to keep until they dispose of it voluntarily, and that governments have only a very limited authority to take property for public use, and must fairly compensate the owner.

Because property rights are the third right, the rights to life and liberty take precedence over property when there is a direct conflict of rights.

How Property Rights Develop

Unlike the right to life, but like liberty rights, property rights develop and expand as a human grows into adulthood. Property rights are not held fully by an individual until adulthood. They are, however, jointly held with a child’s parents or guardians. So the government may not restrict a child’s property rights, though the child’s parents may do so.

Upon reaching adulthood, property rights are held fully by the individual except in two cases. First, an individual with serious mental incapacity may be placed in a guardianship relationship with his or her parents or some other guardian. In these cases, property rights are still held jointly with the guardian as if the individual were a child. Second, an individual may be required to forfeit some or all property rights as punishment after being duly convicted of a crime.

What About Taxes?

Although money is a form of property, governments do have the authority to impose taxes…but only to the least extent necessary to allow that government to defend life, liberty, and property, and to execute any other functions explicitly authorized by the consent of the people through a written constitution.

To raise taxes for any purpose not so authorized, or for a purpose opposed to life, liberty, and property rights, is theft and a violation of human rights. To impose taxes in an unequal manner (i.e., taxing people at different effective rates) is also a form of theft and a violation of the right to equal treatment under the law (see the liberty rights).

Needless to say, the current system of taxation in the United States is fundamentally flawed and unjust. More on this in my tax reform plan.

What About Eminent Domain?

“[Nor] shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

U.S. Constitution, Amendments, Article V (excerpt)

Like governments have the right to impose taxes in certain circumstances, they also have a very limited right to take private property for public purposes. This is only permissible when necessary for the defense of life, liberty, or property, or to execute any other government function explicitly authorized by the consent of the people through a written constitution.

Acceptable uses of this “eminent domain” power include taking property for necessary military purposes, to establish and defend a national border, or to build or improve a highway or other public infrastructure. However, efforts must be made to find other alternatives, or to reach an amicable agreement with the property owner, before any attempt is made to forcibly seize the property. The property owner must be fully compensated for the value of their loss, and governments may not intentionally harm the value of a property in order to reduce the cost of the seizure.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Kelo v. New London, which falsely asserted that governments have the authority to take private property for private purposes, is a violation of human rights and, therefore, invalid and unenforceable.

Governments have no right whatsoever to seize property for private purposes. Using this power for building stadiums, or to obtain property for other private developments, is a blatant violation of human rights. Likewise, governments may not use this power for any public purpose that is not necessary, or that lies outside of the government’s constitutional authorities.

Property Security (Searches)

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

U.S. Constitution, Amendments, Article IV

Nobody has the right to enter your property for any purpose without your permission, except when absolutely necessary to protect others’ life or liberty rights (which are higher rights and thus, when in conflict, take precedence). The right to be secure in your property is closely linked to the right to be secure in your person, which is described in the liberty rights.

Governments have a limited authority to search and seize property when there is probable cause to justify it, and when a warrant for that search has been issued by a court. These warrants cannot authorize a “fishing expedition;” they must particularly describe what can be searched and seized, and why.

In the United States a system of civil forfeiture has been established, which allows law enforcement authorities to permanently seize property in a manner not authorized by natural law or the constitution’s Fourth Amendment. Property that is otherwise legally possessed may only be seized for investigations as authorized by a warrant, and may only be seized permanently as punishment after being duly convicted of a crime.

Civil forfeiture laws and policies are a direct affront to the right to property and a violation of their victims’ human rights. They are, therefore, invalid and unenforceable.

Bail, Fines, and Fees

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed….

U.S. Constitution, Amendments, Article VIII (excerpt)

The U.S. Constitution prohibits governments from imposing “excessive bail” or “excessive fines,” and, by inference, excessive service fees.

With regard to bail and fines, there is a serious equal treatment question that must be addressed. When a poor person is accused of a crime, even a small, non-excessive bail or fine could be catastrophic for them…perhaps much more catastrophic than might be appropriate even upon conviction. But if a rich person is accused of the same crime, and has the same bail or fine set, it may be so small relative to their assets that it is, for that person, an inappropriately small punishment for the crime committed.

While imprisonment as punishment for a crime is relatively equal in its effect regardless of how rich or poor the criminal is, fines have a vastly disproportionate effect. For this reason, the most appropriate mechanism of imposing bail and fines should be by percentage of income or by percentage of net worth.

With regard to fees, there is a similarly disproportionate (i.e., unequal) effect upon the rich and poor. If the National Park Service charges an entry fee of $25 per vehicle to the Shenandoah National Park, this has the effect of making a public park more accessible to the rich than to the poor. This same applies to government owned toll roads and other fee-based services.

The simple solution is to eliminate all government fees and tolls, and fund all authorized government activities only through taxes and tariffs. Any service that is considered a public good and provided by the government should be made freely and equally available to all citizens. Any service that is not considered a public good should be provided by private entities on a fee-for-service basis and receive no taxpayer funding.

In this way, every person’s money and property is equally protected when it comes to government services, assuming that a fair tax system is established.