What do Finland, Sweden, Norway, Singapore, and Switzerland have in common? They outrank the U.S. when it comes to protection of property rights. In the 2012 International Property Rights Index, they are the top five, and the U.S. is 18th of 130 countries.
The index, published by the Property Rights Alliance in affiliation with Americans for Tax Reform, focuses on physical, legal, and intellectual property rights. It turns out that countries with the highest grade are wealthier and grow faster than the rest.
What’s so important about property rights? They benefit the rich and the poor. As Amity Shlaes points out in her Forbes column “Property Uber Alles: Own It”:
The Arab Spring saw a new kind of martyr—the martyr to property rights. On Dec. 17, 2010 a Tunisian fruit dealer, Mohamed Bouazizi, had two crates of pears, one crate of bananas and three crates of apples, as well as a secondhand scale, confiscated by municipal regulators an hour before he set himself on fire. You don’t have to approve of suicide to notice that the erosion of property rights, generally regarded as a mundane event, seemed to have fueled great despair in this case. The story reminds us of an often forgotten truth: The poor care about property just as much as—possibly more than—the rest of us.
The reason for the U.S. rank of 18th is that we rank 50th in the subcategory of political stability. That subcategory should be our strongest since we’re founded on the principle that government exists to promote our general welfare—and not be the impediment to our property rights that it currently is.