When everyone owns something; no one owns it. We need to stop and think about that statement. What about a public highway or pond? What incentive does anyone have to maintain or take care of these things? Why are the principles and values of life, liberty and property rights timeless?
The road to hell
Sure, you see signs along the road that indicate who is taking care of the litter in that section of road. But what does the roadside look like? In our own everyday life we know good intentions don’t do the work, they don’t pick up the litter. Are the roadside litter signs good PR and wishful thinking or is it effective litter policing and control.
Things that everyone owns… no one owns. That’s because no one receives benefit from doing so. But when there are property rights over something you have an incentive to take care of it. Think about it. Cause and action need be connected. Let’s try this another way.
When you own property, you directly benefit from it. That piece of land you live on, the house you live in, you take care of them. Why? Because they are yours, there’s pride in ownership, preservation of value, enhancement of future value. There are as many reasons as there are people. The connection however is between the individual and the property through property rights. Break that bond and what happens?
Economists have observed this phenomenon many, many times. Ted Turner and ranchers brought the buffalo back from the brink of extinction. They took an ownership interest because of property rights. Fishermen almost fished the population of British Columbia halibut into extinction. Property rights brought their population back.
In some regions of Africa, trophy hunting helps to keep populations of certain animals from dipping to extinction levels. It is property rights that help to fund conservation. And lack of property rights is the real cause of the fires in the Amazon rain forest. We can indulge in a blame game about things like the cause of the fires. But, that is political and unproductive. At the end of the discussion, when the blame throwers are holstered, the question is still: How do we prevent and respond to them?
The rainforest covers parts of nine countries. Roughly 60% of it is in Brazil. Brazil makes a claim to ownership of the Amazon. Brazil and the other countries lack the resources and incentive structures to take care of the Amazon. The answer to the deforestation through fire setting is to be found in the principles and values of life, liberty and property rights. In this case property rights most specifically.