Thankfully it IS your property

Friday, June 21, 2013

Thankfully it IS your property

The recent revelation by the IRS and other government agencies that privacy in our personal affairs may not be as private as we all thought is unsettling. Most of us are quite uncomfortable for some obvious reasons.

Who wants to have government snoops listening in on phone conversations or reading our emails? It is just plain creepy, and I think our uneasiness with this kind of snooping has roots in the less obvious, our essence as Americans.

Reduced to a fundamental level, our phone calls and our emails are our personal, private property. They belong to us, just like our cars, homes, knives, forks and spoons. And, relevant to the present discussion, this private property is a reward of our own effort, our own individual responsibility and our integrity. In other words, the reason we own a car or produce an email is because we have put our time into earning the money necessary to obtain the car or in the effort to write the email. Both the car and the email belong to us, they are not our neighbor’s and certainly not our government’s property.

Our things, be them homes or phone calls, are reflective of the work we put into life, and we don’t like others, including our government, messing around with them. In fact, these rewards are what keep most people working at all. Very few of us would want to work if we wouldn’t be paid in some fashion. Indeed, this is really why the various communist experiments have failed: people don’t work hard for very long without some reward, and even the threat of harsh punishment can’t truly change this aspect of human nature.

So, now we can connect the dots: if we want a free society, like we cherish in America, we need individual responsibility, integrity and work. Without these, economic chaos and dependency rule the day and free societies perish. In turn, this chaos calls out for increasing government heavy-handedness and the downward spiral toward governmental tyranny. Accordingly, it is not an exaggeration to say that fostering a work ethic is critical if we are to enjoy freedom and liberty.

The best motivator known to man is the concept of reward. This is just as true in the work setting as it is anywhere else. This is why our Constitutions, be them federal or state, have such a high emphasis on personal property rights. These rights are key. The more we are able to retain and protect what we work hard to obtain, the harder we are likely to work. However, the reverse is also true. The more our property is subject to theft, taxation, or regulation, the less likely we are to work or improve ourselves and our circumstances.

I should add that there is another aspect to private property that comes as a bonus. As Lawrence Reed of the Foundation for Economic Education has observed, “What belongs to you, you tend to take care of; what belongs to no one or everyone tends to fall into disrepair.” Thus, another real benefit of strong private property rights is a better society in general.

The bottom line is that when our private property is found to be not so private, there are big consequences for our American system. This nation was built on individual responsibility (including hard work) and this responsibility in turn depends on a strong recognition and protection of personal property, including even our emails and phone calls. From what I read in the paper, I fear that today we are treading on thin ice, and we are doing so at our peril.

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State Rep. Tom Washburne serves as Vice Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He also serves on the Financial Institutions Committee and the Select Committee on Government Reduction. Rep. Washburne represents the entirety of Gibson County and portions of Knox, Pike, Vanderburgh and Posey counties.