Additional Titles









How America
is Being







PART 2 of 4



By Michael Shaw

October 14, 2006

Private Property and Individual Liberty

The institution of private property makes possible three things essential to our liberty:

  • It encourages productive activity, allowing us to turn our ideas into actions and to realize the benefits of those actions.
  • It allows us to engage in voluntary trade with others, multiplying the benefits of individual action a thousand-fold.
  • It enables us to safeguard and develop our resources responsibly and to secure peace and prosperity as a result.

To appreciate the importance of private property in your own life, you need only to consider the significance of these two facts:

  • Private property represents everything you obtain through productive effort or voluntary trade.
  • Its essence is your right to determine its use.

The Character of Private Property

Productive Effort

Freedom to think and the freedom to express require the freedom to act.

We usually think of private property as the things in which we enjoy exclusive rights of ownership and use: principally our homes and their furnishings and the lots our homes stand on. But private property has a deeper significance. It is synonymous with individual self-ownership. It begins with our persons-our ownership of our bodies. And it extends to our thoughts, expressions, and actions: the productive actions that implement our expressions, which in turn reflect our prior thought. Because private property is so intimately connected to our very beings, it is essential to our self-interest and self-esteem.

Liberty Garden began with a thought. I thought about how to improve the landscape to create value, both as an achievement of my own expression and as a means to procure mutually beneficial trade with others. I wanted to create a place where people would come to enjoy the beauty of a stewarded California landscape. I determined that to best express that thought I ought to create a human-occupied landscape within an unusually productive and diverse native-plant wild land. The actions I took at Liberty Garden brought that expression to life, made the thought a reality. Motivated by the idea of achievement and prospect for trade, my productive effort at Liberty Garden transformed my original private property-a littered weed lot-into a property that expressed my idea of what the land could be.

Suppose, though, that government blocks productive activity by complicating or outlawing human uses of private property and threatens physical force for non-compliance. The effect of this threat is to destroy individual liberty and an individual's pursuit of being who one is. Such harm blocks the path for personal achievement and the societal gains that come from production and trade. When you know that your productive action will result in personal harm, you usually choose not to carry out that action. When thoughts can no longer find expression in action, thought becomes suppressed.

For precisely this reason, innovation and improvement did not occur in the Soviet Union. For the same reason, the innovation and improvement necessary to reverse the degradation of the American landscape are not occurring.

Voluntary Trade

Spontaneous order results from voluntary trade, causing mutual benefit and leading to societal gains.

Private property is freely created and freely exchanged. In a society rooted in private property, all the people who contribute to the manufacture, distribution, sale, and purchase of an item are each seeking personal gain. To achieve their goal, they must obtain the voluntary consent of those with whom they deal; no one can be forced to carry out his part of the bargain.

For instance, when you go to the market with a dollar in your pocket and a desire for a quart of milk, the trade that follows benefits you because you value the milk more than the dollar; the market's owner values the dollar more than the milk. Those engaged in the supply of milk also each seek personal gain: farmers, feed lot operators, distributors, truckers, equipment manufacturers, the suppliers of the resources used to make the equipment, the processors of those resources, the land managers where the resources came from, and so on through the dizzying series of interactions that enables you to give your child a glass of nourishing milk. Each achieved personal gain by contributing to the production of a quality product at a reasonable price. This uncoordinated cooperation is repeated in industry after industry for the benefit of each of us. This spontaneous order, which no government bureaucracy could successfully orchestrate, makes possible the ease and affordability of obtaining all the products we enjoy. The decentralized knowledge that produces such achievement can be accomplished only in a society operating within the institutions of individual liberty and their corollary, private property.

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Productive effort and voluntary trade are the characteristics of private property that promote peace (voluntary consent-based interaction) and rising prosperity through the competitive efforts that cause improvement. For part one click below.

Click here for part -----> 1, 2, 3, 4,

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Michael Shaw is a founder and director of Freedom 21 Santa Cruz and is a frequent host of the nationally syndicated Freedom 21 Santa Cruz Radio Show. He holds degrees in Political Science and Law and has practiced as an attorney and as a Certified Public Accountant. For 20 years he has implemented Abundance Ecology land management techniques on land he owns on the central coast of California. His success at creating an indigenous plant wonderland is unparalleled. Details are available at

More information on the Nature Conservancy and Sustainable Development (research documents, subject topic articles, radio archives, neighborhood tools to counter Sustainable Development and free subscription to The Report) is available at

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Liberty Garden began with a thought. I thought about how to improve the landscape to create value, both as an achievement of my own expression and as a means to procure mutually beneficial trade with others. I wanted to create a place where people would come to enjoy the beauty of a stewarded California landscape.