Human Rights and Human Well-Being

By William J. Talbott | Go to book overview

NINE
Property Rights, Contract Rights, and
Other Economic Rights

Then will not lawsuits and accusations against one another vanish, one
may say, from among them, because they have nothing in private pos-
session but their bodies, but all else in common? So that we can count
on their being free from the dissensions that arise among men from the
possession of property …

—Plato

I am persuaded, that till property be taken away, there can be no just or
equitable distribution made of things, nor can the world be happily
governed.

—Thomas More

Property is theft.

—Proudhon

The theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sen-
tence: Abolition of private property.

—Marx and Engels

I’m a marketable commodity.

—Cher

Economic rights—for example, rights to property, markets, and contracts— often are overlooked or given short shrift in discussions of human rights, perhaps because human rights are typically aimed at ending oppression and economic rights have often been used to justify it. There is also a problem of perception. The negative effects of economic rights are obvious: egoism, greed, and inequalities in wealth. Their positive effects are much less obvious, though more profound. Finally, economic rights are sometimes defined in terms of markets free from government regulation, when, on the contrary, it is appropriate government regulation that makes markets worth having. In spite of this perception problem, when combined with the other items on the list, economic rights are important human rights.

-199-

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