“How can we most effectively weaken property rights?” – part 2
It’s vital to see how the “bundle of rights” approach obliterates property rights as a moral principle. In truth, property rights are inviolable moral principles, protecting each individual’s sovereign right to keep the material values he earns and use them to support his life. This principle is violated when the very first “stick” is removed—that is, when property rights are infringed for the very first time. The crucial benefit of principles is that they serve as early warning systems, like the nerve endings in your skin, alerting you to any damage, no matter how slight, so that you can quickly identify the source of the pain and fight it. The “bundle of rights” approach is specifically designed to anesthetize you against awareness that your rights are being violated. That way, a thousand cuts can be inflicted—a thousand regulations can be imposed—and you won’t know what’s happening to you. Here’s how the authors sum it up: “[F]raming property as bundles of rights and forewarning of limitations weakens perceptions of ownership and decreases resistance to subsequent restrictions.” (Italics added). Here’s my translation: If legal professionals systematically avoid telling people they have a moral right to their property, there will be less messy resistance when those rights are taken away by government fiat. Under this concept, property rights can be selectively violated (or eradicated) by majority vote—rendering them in fact (but not in name) “bundles of permissions.” Interestingly, the authors’ stated goal is not to destroy property rights but only to address “circumstances where owner’s excessive perceptions of their ownership rights impose social costs, frustrate policy goals, and hamper the very institutions meant to support private property.” But the “excessive perceptions” they mention are, at worst, simply errors pertaining to the scope of rights, such as believing one has the right to create a nuisance on one’s property. Property lawyers are well equipped to patiently correct such errors, without any need to undermine their clients’ concept of ownership. At best, however, what the authors call “excessive perceptions” are accurate understandings of property rights (properly understood). When laws violate those rights, it’s in owners’ best interests to urge their repeal. But a rational argument for repeal cannot be made except by invoking the moral principle of property rights.