Kids Are Capitalists

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The first time I heard the phrase "the social construction of property rights" must have been back in my college years.

The idea was the concept of private property was something that was a cultural artifact. The more militant leftists would go on to argue the "capital system" created private property in a cynical attempt to justify the exploitation of workers, the Earth, the downtrodden and so on.

Most of the people making these arguments must never have stepped foot in a playground. Or, at least, they were willing to replace what they learned in playgrounds with what they learned in seminars.

Toddlers do not have to be programmed by society to believe in property. They understand very well the concept of ownership. "Mine" is one of the favorite words of almost every two-year-old I've ever met.

Now a new study shows youngsters exhibit very strong beliefs about property rights. Eric Falkenberg quotes a recent psychology paper's abstract proving the naturalness of property rights:

Rather than being learned from parents, a concept of property rights may automatically grow out of 2- to 3-year-olds’ ideas about bodily rights, such as assuming that another person can’t touch or control one’s body for no reason, Friedman proposed...

Friedman’s team presented a simple quandary to 40 preschoolers, ages 4 and 5, and to 44 adults. Participants saw an image of a cartoon boy holding a crayon who appeared above the word “user” and a cartoon girl who appeared above the word “owner.” After hearing from an experimenter that the girl wanted her crayon back, volunteers were asked to rule on which cartoon child should get the prized object.

About 75 percent of 4- and 5-year-olds decided in favor of the owner, versus about 20 percent of adults.

In other words, the truth is the opposite of what the "property is theft" people would have us believe. We start out with a strong sense that ownership is paramount. It's only later that we become socialized into soft forms of socialism that deny property rights.


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