” Nan Terrie learned an expensive lesson last week about the importance of property rights. ‘Stealing is our biggest problem at the moment,’ the 18-year-old protester told the New York Post. ‘I had my Mac stolen – that was like $5,500.’ Why? because she left it in a public place, amid a crowd demanding the redistribution of wealth. Imagine that. Perverse incentives were at work at Occupy Boston, where 36-year-old Andrew Warner told the Boston Herald: ‘It’s turning into us against them.’ By ‘them’ he didn’t mean rich bankers but street vagrants: ‘They come in here and they’re looking at it as a way of getting a free meal and a place to crash, which is totally fine, but they don’t bring anything to the table at all.” Editorial, ‘Remedial Economics’, The Wall Street Journal, October 27, 2011
An 18-year-old girl may be excused for her abject ignorance of economics 101; but a grown-man of 36 surely may not. Property rights are central to the sound performance of any economy. And by property rights, I mean the property rights of individuals, the imprescriptible rights to their own human capital and to the non-human capital that they have accumulated by their own endeavors and by inheritance from their predecessors.
Where such rights are not well-grounded, relationships between individuals quickly descend into the Hobbesian jungle, where there is no ‘mine’ and ‘thine’ and where life tends to be short and brutal, save for those who are especially well-endowed with instruments of power. Assuredly, the Hobbesian jungle is not an environment that most of the losers who join Occupy Wall Street protests would find congenial.
American schools and universities are largely responsible for this prevailing ignorance of basic economics. They are over-populated with educators who still worship at the shrine of Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong – mass murderers both – who destroyed their economies just as they wiped out many millions of their abject subjects.
Teachers who are unaware of the terrible hardships experienced in the USSR during the early 1930s, as Stalin imposed collectivisation and famine across the Ukraine, and much of the rest of his Empire, and of the famines and mass deaths experienced in China from the mid-1960s onwards as Mao led with the Great Leap Backwards, and followed up with the Anti-Cultural Revolution, are unfit to be in any classroom in the United States.
Those protesters who waste their time sitting in public garbage dumps rambling incoherently about ‘Occupying Wall Street’ would be well-advised to read Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations instead of internet -surfing on expensive laptop computers. There would be no danger of their book being stolen – since many of their fellow-occupiers are functionally illiterate – and at least they would end up understanding why Stalin’s USSR and Mao’s China are poster-boys for failure, and not harbingers of economic success.