In 1816, Thomas Jefferson wrote:
“To take from one, because it is thought that his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, “the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry, and the fruits acquired by it.””
Here, Jefferson is affirming the principle of individual rights, especially property rights. But don’t property rights sometimes stand in the way of justice? In any such cases, wouldn’t it be a moral imperative for government to violate property rights?
The purpose of this essay is to show that inalienable private property rights are a necessary condition of justice. That is, any violation of property rights implies injustice, to the extent of the violation. Please note that it is not the purpose of this essay to argue that property rights guarantee justice. Objectivism does not hold that property rights are a sufficient condition for justice, only a necessary condition. There is much injustice that can occur without violations of property rights. But no one, including the government, can rectify such injustices by violating property rights. Anyone attempting to do this is in the wrong, morally.
So, what is an inalienable property right? It is a principle specifying that no one else may take or otherwise use the thing a person has a right to, without that person’s permission. (All things properly called “rights” are inalienable–that is, they cannot morally be taken away; otherwise they are not “rights,” but grants of permission by someone else. Note also that one person’s rights can be waived by him, by the act of violating another person’s rights.)
A property right to a certain, distinct thing–call it “X”–is properly acquired by either 1) engaging in a productive process directly involving X, when it is not already owned by someone else, or 2) consensually trading things or services with another person for X, when that person owns X, or 3) receiving X as a gift from another person, when that person owns X. A “productive process” might be farming to produce food, building a home, building a factory, making shoes, writing software, providing services, like air conditioning repair, radio, television, movies, etc.