Edward Crane on How Private Property Changed the World

The Cato Institute CEO talks about the forces that shape humanity.
  • Transcript


Question: What forces have shaped humanity most?

Edward Crane:  Well, there is no question that the concept of private property has been an incredibly liberating phenomenon, that people had incentives to improve things and to protect things.  And I can’t think of anything more than the concept of private property.  And then the Age of Enlightenment and the Rights of Man have been hugely important in advancing the cause of human prosperity, the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence.  I mean, these are great milestones in the advancement of humanity.  But certainly, coming to the recognition that certain rights are involved with property was incredibly important to-- and we’re seeing that in China, where there was nothing but poverty.  The first time I went to China was in 1983, and there were no lights at night, and look at it today.  And that’s all because they started recognizing their property rights. 

Question: How do you view human nature?

Edward Crane:  Well, I think human beings are more important than insects, and I think that we have the ability to be heroic, important, loving, individuals.  And we also have the ability to be just despicable.  I mean, it’s a thin line between civilization and chaos.  And what humans have done to each other over the centuries is truly appalling, and yet what they’ve achieved in the arts and music and science and technology is breathtaking.  So humans are complex individuals.  I think everyone has a sense of right and wrong, and that is the basis of morality, and that is what should guide us, because people know when they’re doing wrong.  And I think we need an educational system that is not afraid to make the distinctions between right and wrong and that fundamentally people know that distinction.