"Once a man planted a fig tree within the walls of his vineyard. For three years he waited for it to bear fruit, but none came. At last he called the chief gardener: "Three years I have walked here, each year expecting to find fruit from this fig tree; and still it is barren. Why should it take up space on my grounds any longer? Cut it down."
To this the gardener replied: "Give the tree one more season. I will fertilize its roots and give it special attention. Perhaps then, it will bear fruit. If not, you do right in cutting it down." -- Jesus
There is an intense debate going on in our society today on the "fairness" of wealth distribution. The conversation has shifted dramatically in favor of Government confiscation of private property. Is it fair to be reminded that government doesn't own anything, create anything, produce anything? Is it fair to persuade people that only individuals own, create, innovate and improve property? Is it fair to point out that without a "firm reliance on Divine Providence" and commitment to faith, hope and charity we are left with a fearful choice between tyranny and anarchy? Is it fair to demonstrate through the teachings of Jesus himself, that God expects individuals to be productive and fruitful, for that was his very intention when he gave man "dominion over the earth?"
Once again we must bring the conversation back to the understanding of the Founders -- men immersed in the teachings of Scripture, history and principle. Relying on men like John Locke they understood the intention of the British crown to confiscate the property of the colonies through redistributive taxation and set about creating a governing document that would limit, for generations of Americans, the ability of government to confiscate private property thus freeing the American people to become the most innovative, industrious and generous people on earth.
"John Locke pointed out that the human family originally received the planet earth as a common gift and that mankind was given the capacity and responsibility to improve it. Said he: "God, who hath given the world to men in common, hath also given them reason to make use of it to the best advantage of life and convenience." Then Locke pointed out that man received the commandment from his Creator to "subdue" the earth and "have dominion" over it. But because dominion means control, and control requires exclusiveness, private rights in property became an inescapable necessity or an inherent aspect of subduing the earth and bringing it under dominion. It is obvious that if there were no such thing as "ownership" in property, which means legally protected exclusiveness [bold italics added], there would be no subduing or extensive development of the resources of the earth. Without private "rights" in developed or improved property, it would be perfectly lawful for a lazy, covetous neighbor to move in as soon as the improvements were completed and take possession of the fruits of his industrious neighbor. And even the covetous neighbor would not be secure, because someone stronger than he could take it away from him." (Cleon Skousen, The Five Thousand Year Leap)
Skousen continues: "Note that if property rights did not exist, four things would occur which would completely frustrate the Creator's command to multiply and replenish the earth and subdue it and bring it under dominion:
- One experience like the above (covetous men confiscating property) would tend to completely destroy the incentive of an industrious person to develop and improve any more property.
- The industrious individual would also be deprived of the fruits of his labor.
- Marauding bands would even be tempted to go about the country confiscating by force and violence the good things which others had frugally and painstakingly provided.
- Mankind would be impelled to remain on a bare subsistence level of hand-to-mouth survival because the accumulation of anything would invite attack.
Another interesting point made by Locke is the fact that all property is an extension of a person's life, energy, and ingenuity. Therefore, to destroy or confiscate such property is, in reality, an attack on the essence of life itself. The person who has worked to cultivate a farm, obtained food by hunting, carved a beautiful statue, or secured a wage by his labor, has projected his very being -- the very essence of his life -- into that labor. This is why Locke maintained that a threat to that property is a threat to the essence of life itself. Here is his reasoning: "Though the earth and all inferior creatures be common [as the gift from God] to all men, yet every man has a "property" in his own "person." This, nobody has any right to but himself. The "labor" of his body and the "work" of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever, then, he removes out of the state that Nature hath provided and left it in, he hath mixed his labor with it, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property"....(ibid pg 167)
"...One of the worst sins of government, according to the Founders, was the exercise of its coercive taxing powers to take property from one group and give it to another. In our own day, when the government has imposed a multi-hundred-billion-dollar budget on the American people with about one half being "transfer payments" from the tax-paying public to the wards of the government, the following words of James Madison may sound strange: "Government is instituted to protect property of every sort.... This being the end of government, that alone is not a just government, ... nor is property secure under it, where the property which a man has in his personal safety and personal liberty is violated by arbitrary seizures of one class of citizens for the service of the rest."" (Ibid, pg 175)
We may disagree with the founders on property rights, it is our responsibility to debate and choose for ourselves what kind of America we want to leave for posterity. But let us at least be clear on what they intended, what it has produced to this point and what we are leaving behind if we choose another course of governance.