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IPFS News Link • Property Rights

Can We Secure Property Rights Without the State?

•, By George F. Smith

You might have to call a private service like instead.

Americans long ago lost property rights to their income, the purchasing power of their money, their savings, and their lives. Is there no way for people to protect what is legitimately theirs?

Fortunately, both experience and theory says there is: The classic study by Terry L. Anderson and P. J. Hill, An American Experiment in Anarcho-Capitalism: The Not So Wild, Wild West and Robert P. Murphy's Chaos Theory.

Thanks to Hollywood and popular literature, the American West [1830-1900] is often portrayed as violent and lawless. As long as you had a fast gun and were willing to use it, you could get away with anything. The reason: weak or nonexistent government.

In their literature search, though, Anderson and Hill found ample evidence to the contrary. For example, W. Eugene Hollon in Frontier Violence: Another Look found that "the Western frontier was a far more civilized, more peaceful, and safer place than American society is today [the early 1970s]."

Another researcher, Frank Prassel, writing in the mid-1930s, found that if any conclusion can be drawn from recent crime statistics, it must be that this last frontier [the West] left no significant heritage of offenses against the person, relative to other sections of the country.

In the early West people protected their property and lives with private agencies. Significantly, these agencies understood that violence was a costly method of resolving disputes and usually employed lower-cost methods of settlement such as arbitration and courts. Nor was there a universal idea of justice common to these agencies. People had different ideas of what rules they wished to live under and were willing to pay for. Competition among the agencies provided a choice.