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Books | Secure property rights are at the heart of liberty

Issue: "Welfare Reform on Trial," May 3, 1997

You know you are a policy fanatic when you eagerly await the latest Statistical Abstract/ American Almanac (they attach a different cover to the same data). A country is more than statistics, but statistics tell an awful lot about our country.

For instance, in 1994 there were 39,863 congregations of the Southern Baptist Convention. The Coptic Orthodox Church had but 85 churches. America's 257,648 religious assemblies (in 1991) collected $48.4 billion in gifts, fees, and tuition. On and on go the statistics, for 1,000 pages!

Vitally important is Property Matters, by James DeLong, an attorney associated with Washington's Competitive Enterprise Institute. In it he documents government's multi-faceted assault on the right to own and use property. His focus is land, but the principle runs far further. As Mr. DeLong explains: &quotIf a society does not get its priorities right in the context of land, it is not likely to get them right for other forms of property either."

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Mr. DeLong offers a parade of horror stories to illustrate how the government is running roughshod over homeowners and businessmen through the Endangered Species Act, wetlands regulation, zoning, and other rules. In the name of protecting amenities for all of us, Washington is imposing huge costs on individual landowners. The only answer is to restore constitutional protection for property rights.

Covering related issues is Edmund Contoski's Makers and Takers, which offers an easily accessible discussion of economics and politics. Who generates wealth? The &quotmakers&quot-entrepreneurs in the marketplace. Who impedes wealth creation? The &quottakers&quot-governments and the interests on whose behalf they act. &quotThe universal basis of prosperity," he writes, is freedom.

That markets work is evident in the experience of Latin America, detailed in The Capitalist Revolution in Latin America. The implications of Latin America's experience, contend the authors (associated with different Washington think tanks), is that &quotU.S. tax, entitlement, regulatory, and legal politics are inconsistent with the ability of the United States to be a global competitor."

The collapse of the Soviet Union and its empire is likely to spark a spate of new thinking about the Cold War. Historian John Lewis Gaddis' offering, We Now Know, is worth a careful read. He believes the Cold War was probably inevitable. Writes Mr. Gaddis, &quotWorld politics was an extension of Soviet politics, which was in turn an extension of Stalin's preferred personal environment: a zero-sum game, in which achieving security for one meant depriving everyone else of it."

The 21st century is likely to be dominated by Asia rather than Europe. Sociologist S.N. Eisenstadt helps explain Japan-its culture and history, and how they influence Tokyo's actions today-in Japanese Civilization.

John W. Alexander
John W. Alexander

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