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McCulloch argues that the right to property extends to “the faculties of (one’s) mind and the powers of (one’s) body” (1864)

In his treatise on the Principles of Political Economy McCulloch (1789-1864) grounds the science of economics on the principle of the right to property, by which he meant much more than physical things:

It must not, however, be imagined that the security of property is violated only when a man is not allowed to enjoy or dispose at pleasure of the fruits of his industry: it is also violated, and perhaps in a still more unjustifiable manner, when he is prevented from using the powers given him by nature, in any way, not injurious to others, he considers most beneficial for himself. Of all the species of property which a man can possess, the faculties of his mind and the powers of his body are most particularly his own; and these he should be permitted to enjoy, that is, to use or exert, at his discretion.

It is obvious from these statements that the law of the land is not, as Paley has affirmed, the real foundation of the right of property. It rests on a more ancient and a more solid basis. It grows out of the circumstances under which man is placed. Every people emerging from barbarism has established this right. And as it could not be overthrown or set aside without depopulating the earth, and throwing mankind back into primæval barbarism, it has been guarded by the strongest sanctions. It is, in truth, the foundation on which the other institutions of society mainly rest; for, as Cicero has stated, it was chiefly that property might be protected that civil government was instituted. Hanc enim ob causam maximè, ut sua tuerentur, respublicæ civitatesque constitutæ sunt. Nam etsi duce naturæ, congregabantur homines, tamen spe custodiæ rerum suarum, urbium præsidia quærebant. Where property is not publicly guaranteed, men must look on each other as enemies rather than as friends. The idle and improvident are always desirous of seizing on the wealth of the laborious and frugal; and, did not the strong arm of the law restrain them from prosecuting their attacks, they would, by generating a feeling of insecurity, effectually check both industry and accumulation, and sink all classes to the same level of hopeless misery as themselves. The security of property is, indeed, quite as indispensable to accumulation as to production. Where it is protected, an individual who produces as much by the labour of one day as is sufficient to maintain him two, is not idle during the second day, but accumulates the surplus above his wants as a reserve stock; the advantages which the possession of stock or capital brings along with it, being, in the great majority of cases, more than sufficient to counterbalance the desire of immediate gratification. But, wherever property is insecure, we look in vain for the operation of this principle. “It is plainly better for us,” is then invariably the language of the people, “to enjoy while it is in our power, than to accumulate property which we will not be permitted to dispose of, and which will either expose us to the extortion of a rapacious government, or to the depredations of those who exist only by the plunder of their more industrious neighbours.”

It must not, however, be imagined that the security of property is violated only when a man is not allowed to enjoy or dispose at pleasure of the fruits of his industry: it is also violated, and perhaps in a still more unjustifiable manner, when he is prevented from using the powers given him by nature, in any way, not injurious to others, he considers most beneficial for himself. Of all the species of property which a man can possess, the faculties of his mind and the powers of his body are most particularly his own; and these he should be permitted to enjoy, that is, to use or exert, at his discretion. And hence this right is as much infringed upon when a man is interdicted from engaging in a particular branch of business, as when he is unjustly deprived of the property he has produced or accumulated. All monopolies which give to a few individuals the power to carry on certain branches of industry to the exclusion of others, are thus really established in violation of the property of every one else. They prevent them from using their natural capacities or powers in what they might have considered the best manner; and, as every man not a slave is held to be the best, and, indeed, only judge of what is advantageous for himself, the most obvious principles of justice and the right of property are both subverted when he is excluded from any employment. In like manner, this right is violated when any regulation is made to force an individual to employ his labour or capital in a particular way. The property of a landlord would be violated were he compelled to adopt any system of cultivation, even though it were preferable to that which he was previously following; the property of a capitalist would be violated were he obliged to accept a particular rate of interest for his stock; and the property of a labourer would be violated were he obliged to employ himself in any particular occupation, or for a fixed rate of wages.

About this Quotation:

The classical political economists are often criticized for being, among many things, heartless economizers who are only interested in calculating profits. That at least is the caricature which is often drawn of them. Yet, passages such as these show how deeply concerned economists like McCulloch were for the well being of ordinary people who are regulated and taxed in so many different ways by a political system which seems to work only for the benefit of the well-connected few. Here he rejects the idea that “property” is limited to things like land or capital (which are owned typically by the wealthy) and reminds the reader than even the little people have property in themselves, their labour, their ideas, thoughts, and aspirations for the future. When these things are repressed, regulated, prohibited, and taxed the government violates a fundamental property right which every individual, little or big, has.

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