A New Year’s Resolution on Property Rights

“Happy New Year!” means ’tis the season for new year’s resolutions. Time for expressing good intentions. Alas, many of those promises to ourselves may not last the month of January.


For 2019, we’re launching a blog for the Conservatives for Property Rights coalition. And I expect this initiative to last much longer than some other new year’s resolutions might. CPR members and I will contribute postings, as will guest bloggers.


2019 promises to bring a range of property rights issues to the fore. On some we’ll be playing offense and on others, defense. Many will end up as blog topics.


On offense, there’s more work to be done administratively to achieve the Waters of the United States rule’s “navigable waters” proposed definition, thereby protecting private land rights where puddles occasionally may form, as well as regulatory efforts to open up public lands to benefit the citizen-taxpayers who ultimately own them.


The Federal Trade Commission needs to show humility in enforcement of antitrust where intellectual property is involved. The Patent & Trademark Office has made a good start regarding secured property rights in inventions and trademarks, but there’s a lot of ground yet to cover to rectify harm done over the past decade.


Legislation would better cement most policy improvements, but a divided Congress won’t likely enact a lot of bills, period, especially in some of these areas of property rights. Still, bright spots for bipartisan lawmaking include the STRONGER Patents Act, the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act and the Private Property Rights Protection Act, remedying the Kelo decision enabling eminent domain’s abuse of power.


On defense, three U.S. Senators likely to run for President — Booker, Sanders and Warren — have each proposed confiscatory legislation to dramatically hike the federal estate tax. Bills to require compulsory licensing of pharmaceutical patents and data and to set government price controls, along with a regulatory proposal importing foreign price controls for Medicare, threaten private property rights. And the International Trade Commission is weak in the knees in a prominent patent-infringement dispute.


In short, 2019 offers Conservatives for Property Rights much on which to sound off, advocate and educate.


So, why call this blog “Locke’s Notebook?”


The title refers to 17th century political philosopher John Locke. His thinking on property rights draws on the ideas of the Protestant Reformation, the Renaissance and the Scottish Enlightenment, and was familiar to the American Founders.


Locke’s property rights framework builds upon the Scot Samuel Rutherford’s influential Lex Rex. Locke developed a similar foundation for understanding private property rights broadly, based on an individual’s inherent rights. For the Founding Fathers, Locke tracks in political philosophy with Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations in free-enterprise economics and his The Theory of Moral Sentiments in moral philosophy, and William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England in legal thought, particularly regarding common law, equity, natural law and individual rights (“chartered rights of Englishmen”).


Locke’s understanding of unalienable rights ranges from life to liberty to property in all its forms. “Every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself,” Locke writes in his Second Treatise on Government. “The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his.”


Thus, Locke provides us a shorthand reference to this philosophical foundation, from which we gain bedrock principles such as the rule of law, ordered liberty, due process and respect for private property and the rights thereto.


Conservatives for Property Rights, comprised of organizations from across the

Conservative Movement, stresses that private property, in all its forms, is an unalienable right. With that principle, CPR and its members stand on the foundation of Locke et al.

So, this blog provides entries on various aspects of property rights, in 2019 and beyond.


These blog posts represent our aspiration to reflect the light of Lockean and the broad, noble philosophy described here as entries address issues America faces today — each relating to property rights and essential principles for securing these unalienable rights.


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