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Sunday, June 01, 2008

We All Own Stolen Goods

Thought provoking article about how defending property rights can help the worlds most oppressed people:

You very likely own stolen goods. The gas in your car, the circuits in your cell phone, the diamond in your ring, the chemicals in your lipstick or shaving cream — even the plastic in your computer may be the product of theft. Americans buy huge quantities of goods every day that are literally stolen from some of the world’s poorest people. These thefts are permitted — indeed encouraged — by an archaic rule of international trade that violates the most fundamental rule of capitalism: to protect property rights.

Tracing these stolen goods back to where the thefts occur lands us in some of the most wretched places on earth. What these countries have in common is an abundance of natural resources and plentiful political violence and corruption. All suffer from what Joseph Stiglitz and Jeffrey Sachs call “the resource curse.” Here dictators and insurgents sell off the country’s resources to foreigners, terrifying the people into submission while keeping the wealth for themselves.

...Americans today can’t help funding death and terror when they buy gasoline and magazines, jewelry and laptops, cosmetics and cell phones. The materials used to make these goods are not just stolen: they have been stolen from the world’s poorest people using weapons paid for with money gained from previous sales of stolen goods.

Peoples have rights, and there are things no person or group may do to them (without violating their rights). Trafficking in a country’s valuable natural resources without the people’s consent certainly crosses that line. The priority in reforming global trade must be to lock in the rights that define the market order. The first step in improving the prospects of poor people is to enforce the rights they already have.

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