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Can Iraq Succeed Without Private Property Protections?
by Cheryl Chumley
21 March 2004Iraqi Flag

Have we forgotten that without private property protections, no other civil rights can exist?


John Adams said, “The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God and there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence.”

How then, does Iraq, based in part on months of influence from America’s best and brightest, choose to advance this fundamental human right of property ownership in its interim Constitution? It currently is the Law of the Administration for the State of Iraq for the Transitional Period. It does so by asserting in Article 16, Sections A, B and C: “Public property is sacrosanct and its protection is the duty of every citizen.” That’s public, not private property.

Is this what we’re patting ourselves on the back for helping develop? That first and foremost,a citizens’ duty is to protect public land? This is what Secretary of State Colin Powell called “a day reflecting a bright future for the Iraqi people.” Have we forgotten that without private property protections, no other civil rights can exist?

Without the protection of private property, freedom to practice one’s religion, speak without fear, live where desired, maintain personal privacy, and operate a business in a profitable manner are all jeopardized. That’s because all these activities take place on land and once government owns land, it has control of what can and cannot occur on the property.

This is not an insignificant issue. Consider the western portion of the United States and the estimated 75% of Utah property that already rests in the control of state and federal government entities. Or consider the 95% of Alaska land that is deemed off-limits to private ownership. Look at the recent successes of radical environmental organizations like the Sierra Club and Audubon Society who work to advance U.N. goals of “sustainable development.”  This term means controlled “Smart Growth” and Wildlands Project agendas that unequivocally state that humans are destructive to nature and need to be corralled into small, government-managed areas so that the salamander and bear can roam freely.

This is how we as a nation are relinquishing our private property rights and continuing the betrayal of the Founding Fathers, who knew the importance of land rights and stated so inarguably in the Fifth Amendment: that “no person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.”

As Adams warned, failure to protect private property rights results in tyranny. As a nation we are forgetting this warning, and are allowing our God-given rights to be transferred to government hands, controlled and doled out as a favor or reward for political correctness. We are forgetting to such a degree that we not only seek to undo the hard-earned protections of our nation’s founders, but now are also spreading this watered-down interpretation of basic human rights to other countries. And congratulating ourselves in the process.

It is true that Sections B and C of Iraq’s interim Constitution do guarantee that “the right to private property shall be protected,” that “no one may be prevented from disposing of his property except within the limits of the law,” and that owners will retain control of their lands except in cases of “eminent domain, in circumstances and in the manner set forth in law, and on condition that he is paid just and timely compensation.”

However, as Patrick Basham, senior fellow for the Center for Representative Government at the Cato Institute, suggests: “The headline rhetoric looks good, but the devil’s in the details.” 

How, for example, can this private property safeguard be taken seriously with so many references and promises of laws-to-come that will ultimately clarify the manner in which property can be disposed and grabbed? It’s these references, along with the curious inclusion of unnecessary gender-specific pronouns, that should strike ominously at the hearts of private property protectionists.

It’s the Iraqi document’s lack of mention of free market principles, the cousin of private land rights protections, that should also come as a warning of our nation’s changing belief system, from republic to socialist, as we not only dismiss the decimation of our own capitalist roots, but also applaud the spread of a fated “equality for all” economic system elsewhere.

This new constitution, in Article 25, gives the Iraqi government “exclusive competence” to “formulate a general policy on wages.” Article 14 advances this tenet of socialism further by recognizing the right of the individual to “security, education, health care and social security.” It goes on to say the government “shall strive to provide prosperity and employment opportunities to the people.”

Wage controls, a welfare system, government-controlled education and a government that professes its duty to deliver this quality of life and equality of prosperity to all its citizens. This is not hopeful for private property advocates living in Iraq; those who dreamed of the wealth that could be generated with property and business ownership, but who will soon find their newly elected government officials struggling to realize the promises of this welfare system. They will, of course, turn to regulation as the answer.

To honor the commitments promised in this interim Constitution, desperate politicians will have little recourse but to enact eminent domain provisions in the futile belief that controlling land and therefore business will somehow provide the money for the guaranteed benefits. Reversion to dictatorship – tyranny, as Adams put it – seems imminent.

Official US support of such a system of governance reflects how far we have strayed from our Founding Father’s principle; the absolute protection of private property.

Perhaps we should not be surprised then if history remembers March 8, 2004, not as Powell depicted, the beginning of Iraq’s “bright future,” but rather as a day of infamy, marking the start of a failed Bush administration nation-building policy that was sadly based on our own deviated, hypocritical interpretations of freedom; one that resulted in a slow return of oppression of the Iraqi people.

Cheryl K. Chumley is the Associate Editor of the American Policy Center’s News Wire. The Center is a grassroots, activist think tank headquartered in Warrenton, VA. It maintains an Internet site at www.americanpolicy.org.

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