448 pages, hardcover
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THE NOBLEST TRIUMPH: Property and Prosperity Throughout the Ages
by Tom Bethell
What is behind the phenomenal success of Western civilization and its remarkable economic growth? The answer, says Bethell, involves the concept of private property and the development of secure property rights. In fact, he claims, a nation's prosperity increases in proportion to its legal and social support for private property. With appropriate legal institutions, argues Bethell, property owners will work to improve what they have and maximize its value, thereby making it more productive and keeping it from harm. In addition to recent examples (such as the collapse of the USSR), Bethell shows that private property rights have been a pivotal factor in prosperity throughout history. Once example he cites involves Plymouth Colony more than 300 years ago. Originally, all property in the colony was held in common for all settlers. But, as their governor William Bradford complained, the colony soon divided into two camps: disgruntled hard workers, and "free riders" who lived off the efforts of others. It was only after individual property rights were restored, and people received income in proportion to their outputs, that prosperity finally arrived for Plymouth Colony. Examining the historical record, Bethell demonstrates that societies which permit ownership of private property, protect property from the predations of others, establish a judicial system to enforce contracts, treat all equally according to law, and allow the possibility of reward are the ones that flourish and bring greatest wealth to all. This is a powerful rebuttal to anyone who believes that wealth can be increased simply by redistributing it.