The Noblest Triumph: Property and Prosperity Through the Ages

Tom Bethell, Author
Tom Bethell, Author St. Martin's Press $29.95 (378p) ISBN 978-0-312-21083-0
Reviewed on: 06/01/1998
Release date: 06/01/1998
Paperback - 384 pages - 978-0-312-22337-3
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Marx preached the abolition of private property; utopian William Godwin inveighed against property and marriage as evils; and British socialist Robert Owen, who subsidized a failed collectivist community in New Harmony, Ind., in the 1820s, taught that private property warped human character. In their wake, argues American Spectator Washington correspondent Bethell, the concept of private property has been tarnished. In a signal contribution to the debate over capitalism's future, he contends that economic prosperity and social justice are possible only when property rights are widespread--and protected by a legal system that holds all equal before the law. These factors, he maintains, explain the vast gulf separating the world's prosperous nations and underdeveloped economies. All over the Third World, he notes, most people are permanently at risk of eviction, seizure, squatters' or police-state depredations. It follows, he argues, that the solution to poverty is not expropriation of land and redistribution of wealth, but rather, creating an infrastructure that will secure title rights to land, homes and businesses, making private enterprise feasible. A shrewd analyst of the abortive Soviet experiment, Bethell offers a novel analysis of the mid-19th-century Irish famine, arguing that shortsighted Anglo-Irish landlords acted against their own best interests by denying tenant farmers long-term leases. Yet Bethell struggles unsuccessfully to fit undemocratic, economically booming China into his framework, and at times sounds like an apologist for China, disputing the U.S. State Department's designation of it as an authoritarian state. (Aug.)
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