Haiti, Favelas and Property Rights

A lot of people live in slums called favelas, places where you and I certainly do not want to live. Search Google to find photos. Haiti is one such place.

On a scale of 0 to 100, poorest to best scores, Haiti has a property rights score of 13, the lowest even of its peers. Cuba is 32 and Jamaica is 58. America is 81. We used to be 90 before 2009. In 2010 it fell to 85 and in 2014, to 80.

Haiti’s property rights problem is also a government problem, a legal problem, a political problem and an enforcement problem. It’s a problem that has resisted improvement for a long, long time. The cited article indicates specific legal problems.

The name-calling surrounding Trump’s remarks obscures the lesson that everyone needs to be taught, respect and know, which is that secure private property rights are essential for people to make something of their lives. Without security for the ownership of what one builds or produces, one loses the incentive to own and to produce in the first place. If property can be stolen, taxed or regulated away at the unstable whim of others or government, or if property cannot be clearly obtained and defended, what incentive is there to attain it in the first place?

Property rights have to be separated from racism. We in America cannot sustain strong property rights if we override them with government powers that supposedly are aiming to create progress against discrimination. Rental discrimination is not per se or automatically racism unless the force of law stands behind such discrimination; and that has happened in our country’s history. Private discrimination should not be outlawed at the price of eroding or destroying private property rights. That accomplishes nothing. Individuals or a whole society do not become more tolerant by passing a law outlawing intolerance.

It’s novel for a president’s opinions to be expressed bluntly and revealed so quickly. It’s not novel any longer for this president to be accused on one ground after another. In this case, the accusation is racism. Well before the current incident, the case was being made that Trump is racist, such as this article in Fortune. Most of this particular article dwells on Trump’s resistance to laws that infringed on the property rights of landlords. Anyone who opposes provisions of the U.S. Code that supposedly uphold civil rights and end discrimination, while simultaneously undermining property rights, can be and many have been accused of racism. How ironic it is that Trump attempted 50 years ago to defend his property rights, not a racist position, and now he is accused of being racist for a remark made about countries that have terrible property rights, such that they produce a large stream of people seeking to escape to other countries that have more secure property rights.

The storm of remarks critical of Trump’s comment may include people of sincere belief as well as people who are politically motivated. It doesn’t much matter. The point is the confusion of racism with the defense of property rights. The point is that terrible property rights are one major cause of favelas in many parts of the world. If America decimated its property rights, we’d have the same result here.

It just so happens that most of the world is not white, something like 70 percent. It also happens that property rights vary across the world, and a variety of legal and government enforcement systems prevail. Identifying a place as having poor property rights is likely simultaneously to pick out a place that has a nonwhite population or some other ethnic or religious character. This is because much of the world is nonwhite, much of the world doesn’t have legal and governing systems that result in secure property rights, and crucially because societies with governments tend to be somewhat homogeneous along some such lines as race, ethnicity, language, legal code and religion. The cause of poor government and property rights is not skin color, which is a superficial trait. What then are the causes of poor property rights? Or the opposite: What are the reasons why some countries enjoy superior property rights?


9:13 am on January 14, 2018