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Property and Economic Prosperity

3. How are property rights linked to economic activity?

Property as an Incentive

The ability to possess property for one’s benefit and to exclude others is understood as a desire or want of many individuals. Research has shown that individuals will expend effort to acquire resources that meet a need or want. Providing a system whereby individuals may acquire property incentivizes those individuals to work toward that end. That is, people will expend effort to acquire property if they have the knowledge that they will be able to retain the property for their personal use and without the threat of forfeiting the property to others. They will undertake work that they were not otherwise willing to undertake in the absence of acquiring new property. Some individuals are willing to work longer and harder incentivized by the amount of property they are able to acquire as a result of their efforts. This tendency often results in greater efficiency in effort and overall economic productivity. Increased productivity of individuals is linked to increases in total economic output in an economy.

•    Discussion: Do you believe that ownership rights in property have a positive or negative effect on individual productivity? Why or why not? If yes, are there any negative effects of the incentives created by property rights? Are there any disincentives associated with property rights?

•    Practice Question: Jonathan works in a 9 to 5 job. His performance objectives and career path is very clear. He is promoted based upon meeting minimum performance standards over a specified period of time. If he meets these standards each year, he will gradually receive higher benefits and increasing responsibility. If he fails to meet those standards, he will likely remain in his current position. While superior performance may bring praise from his colleagues and superiors, it will not increase the rate at which he is promoted or bring any additional, tangible reward. In this system, how is property used (or not used) as an incentive to induce greater economic output?

Capital Formation

Property ownership rights allow individuals to possess and demonstrate the results of their own efforts. Individuals are then able to employ that property toward creating additional property. That is, individuals can use their acquired property (or provide it to others) with the intention of generating or acquiring ownership rights in more property. In furtherance of capital formation, the nature of property allows ownership rights in any resource to be divided among individuals. As such, individuals can employ their resources collectively in the creation or acquisition of new property.

•    Example: Abe’s ownership of property allows him employ the services of Bob in exchange for providing Bob with a form of property. Bob’s effort generates additional property for Abe, which Abe can use for the creation of additional property.

•    Discussion: Can you think of any other examples of how ownership rights allow individuals to accumulate or grow economic value or wealth?

•    Practice Question: Jane is renting an apartment in New York for $2,000 per month. She decides to purchase a home because it will be financially advantageous. She buys a very small apartment for $350,000. Her mortgage each month is $1,650 and her property taxes are $600. Of her mortgage payment, $1000 goes to principal, while $650 goes to interest. In this scenario, how does owning property allow for capital formation where renting an apartment does not?


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