Communist Takes Advantage of Private Property Rights:

In this funny Bill O'Reilly segment, self-proclaimed "communist" William Ayers uses private property rights to get rid of a Fox News reporter who was pestering him. When the reporter repeatedly tries to approach Ayers at his house, Ayers tells him to go away, saying "this is my property." Eventually, Ayers calls the police, who come and instruct the reporter to get off Ayers' land. The irony, of course, is that as a communist, Ayers is opposed to private property rights.

My point, however, is not to criticize Ayers for his hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is a minor offense compared to his real crimes. Rather, I want to emphasize that this is a small example of how property rights play an important role in protecting unpopular people. Private property gives minorities with unpopular views, lifestyles, or identities, a secure space in which they are protected from the hostility of the majority. Tom Palmer's excellent post on the way in which the rise of private property rights has increased freedom for gays in China is an interesting recent example.

In that respect, property rights play a role similar to that of freedom speech. But while the importance of freedom of speech in protecting unpopular minorities is widely understood, many people still believe that property rights mostly benefit only the wealthy, powerful, and popular. As the very different examples of Ayers and the Chinese gays demonstrate, that is not so.

Of course some of those who take advantage of property rights are far from admirable, as is certainly true of Ayers. But the same can be said for free speech rights. Many of the Supreme Court's most important First Amendment precedents vindicated the rights of communists, KKK leaders, and others who would surely abolish freedom of speech for the rest of us if they ever had the power to do so.

UPDATE: I should thank co-blogger David Bernstein for sending me the link to the video of Fox's attempt to interview Ayers.