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Private Property Rights


One of the most important characteristics of the U.S. market economy is the private ownership of the means of producing goods and services. Buildings, natural resources, machinery, equipment, and labor are, for the most part, owned privately, not by the government. Under this system of private ownership, known as a system of private property rights, private individuals have certain privileges or legal rights. Producers are largely free to produce what they wish, to decide how to manage the property, and to sell to whomever they choose and under what terms. Laborers are free to work where they choose. This type of system is referred to as a capitalist system. In contrast, a socialist system allows for private property rights regarding labor and personal items but government owns the major productive resources. In a communist system, theoretically, no private property rights exist because the people own everything in common.

Two types of property are recognized, real property and personal property. Real property is land and anything attached to it such as buildings and crops. In modern terms real property also includes the natural resources found over and under the land, such as oil, minerals, and gases. Personal property is anything other than land that can be owned, including money, stocks, machinery, and equipment. Personal property can be tangible or intangible, such as a famous individual's image.

In the United States a system of property law protects private property rights associated with both real and personal property. This system has its roots in English common law. Property law, with principles, policies, and rules, attempts to resolve disputes. It is a unique law in that the disputes are between the rights of individuals with respect to "things," not with respect to other individuals.

Historically, the more confidence is placed in a nation's private property rights, the more private investment will flow to that nation's economy. People are more willing to invest in endeavors that will increase their private wealth in future years. Throughout the history of the United States and especially in the twentieth century, capital from around the world has been invested in the United States because of its well-defined and enforced private property rights.

See also: Capitalism, Socialism

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"Private Property Rights." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . 17 Dec. 2017 <>.

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Wise Use Movement

Wise use movement

The wise use movement was developed in the late 1980s as a response to the environmental movement and increasing government regulation. A grassroots environmental movement came about because of perceived impotence of federal regulatory agencies to either regulate the continuing flow of untested toxics into the environment or clean up the massive mountain of accumulating waste through the Superfund law. The wise use movement has begun to address these same issues, but basically from a financial standpoint.

Recognizing that cleanup is far more costly than anticipated and persisting in the belief that public land should be available for business use, the wise use movement has begun to garner a growing constituency. One of the major new themes, for example, is that low exposures to chemicals and radiation are not harmful to humans or ecosystems, or at least not harmful enough to warrant the billions of dollars needed to protect and clean up the environment. Some companies, rather than changing manufacturing processes or doing research on less toxic chemicals, have chosen to continue doing business as usual and are among the leaders of the wise use movement.

The oil, mining, ranching, fishing, farming, and off-road vehicles industrieswhich are most affected by wetland regulation and restrictions on land usealso form a constituency for the wise use movement. The fight for control over land is an old one. Traditionally, timber and mining companies have sought unrestricted access to public lands. Environmental groups such as the Wilderness Society , the National Audubon Society , the Sierra Club , and the Nature Conservancy have fought to restrict access. This controversy has been in open debate since at least 1877. At that time, Carl Schurz, then Secretary of the Interior, proposed the idea of national forests, which would be rationally managed instead of exploited. Today, the debate between the environmental and wise use movements represents little more than the longstanding controversy over the best use of public landsthe 29.2% of the total area of the United States owned by the federal government. At present, the wise use movement is most active in the western states with regard to the debate over land use , but it is moving into the East as well, where the movement is championed by developers who want to abolish wetlands regulations.

At this point, several thousand small groups and countless individuals identify to some degree with the wise use movement. They claim they are the only true environmentalists and label traditional environmentalists "preservationists who hate humans." The wise use aim is to gut all environmental legislation on the theory that regulation has ruined America by curtailing the rights of property owners. Many wise use advocates avoid complexity by simply denying the existence of many widely-accepted theories. For example, some wise use leaders insist that the ozone layer depletion problem was manufactured by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and isn't a real threat.

The philosophy of the wise use movement is based on a book by Ron Arnold and Alan Gottlieb, The Wise Use Agenda (1988). The movement took a major step forward after a conference held in Reno, Nevada in August of 1988, sponsored by the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise. Funding for the conference came from large corporations along with a number of right-wing business, political, and religious organizations. The conference was attended by roughly 300 people from across the United States and Canada, representing those industries that feel most threatened by current regulation. These people became the activist founders of the wise use movement. Calling themselves the "new environmentalists," they moved on to organize grassroots support.

The wise use movement has developed a 25-point agenda, seeking to foster business use of natural resources . Wise use goals are considered environmentally damaging and are opposed by the traditional environmentalist movement. The wise use movement pursues the development of petroleum resources in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. It advocates clear-cutting of old-growth forest and replanting of public lands with baby trees, the latter at government expense. It aims to open public lands, including wilderness and national parks, to mining and oil drilling . It seeks to rescind all federal regulation of those water resources originating in or passing through the states, favoring state regulation exclusively. The wise use movement further advocates the use of national parks for recreational purposes and a stop to all regulation that may exclude park visitors for protective purposes. It opposes any further restrictions on rangelands as livestock grazing areas. It advocates the prevention and immediate extinction of all wildfires to protect timber for commercial harvesting.

The above is but a sampling of the agenda of wise use groups in the United States and abroad. The movement is using established corporate structures as a base, which provide training and support to activists. Corporations are now being joined by timber and logging associations, chambers of commerce, farm bureaus, and local organizations. The wise use movement is growing because of grassroots support. Small farmers and ranchers and small mining and logging operations have come under tremendous financial pressure. Resources are dwindling, and costs are going up. With increased mechanization, small business owners and their livelihoods are threatened. To give one example, government scientists, after conducting five separate studies, recommended that timber harvests in the Pacific Northwest's ancient forests be reduced by 60% from what they were in the mid-1980s. Loggers would not be able to cut more than two billion board feet of wood a year from national forests in Oregon and Washington. That is substantially below the five billion-plus board feet the industry harvested on those lands annually from 1983 to 1987, before the dispute over protection of the northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina ) and old-growth forests wound up in court. The wise use movement is one effort to rally behind the people who risk the loss of work, and who may see environmentalism as their enemy.

In a strange irony, the grassroots activists of both the environmental movement and the wise use movement have much in common. The rank and file in the wise use movement represent the same kinds of concerns for environmental justice. Both sides see their well-being threatened, whether in terms of property values, livelihoods, or health, and have organized in self-defense.

See also Environmental ethics

[Liane Clorfene Casten and Marijke Rijsberman ]



Gottlieb, A. M., and R. Arnold. The Wise Use Agenda. Bellevue, WA: Free Enterprise Press, 1989.


Mendocino Environmental Center Newsletter 12 (Summer/Fall 1992).

Rachel's Hazardous Waste News (Environmental Research Foundation). Nos. 332, 335.

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"Wise Use Movement." Environmental Encyclopedia. . 17 Dec. 2017 <>.

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