Sunday, February 28, 2010

USA vs. Canada: Property Rights

Watching the big Olympic Gold Medal game today?  While the eyes of North America will be on the hockey game, this Western Standard article compares the two contries in another area: Canada beats the U.S. (in protection of property rights, not hockey)

The article discusses the recently-released 2010 International Property Rights Index.  The report is produced by the DC-based Property Rights Alliance (with support from the Institute for Liberty and Democracy and Hernando de Soto).  According to the press release of the Canada-based Frontier Centre for Public Policy, the report compares compares countries around the world on ten factors in three subject areas:

  • The legal and political environment (as it relates to judicial independence, rule of law, political stability and degree of corruption);
  • Physical property rights (protection of physical property rights, ease of registration of property, and access to loans);
  • Intellectual property rights (protection of intellectual property rights, patent protection, and copyright policy)

According to the report, Scandivian property rights rock.  The top 5: Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Netherlands, and Norway-Switzerland-New Zealand (tie).  Canada is tied with Germany and Ireland at #12, and the U.S. is at #15.  I'm not familiar with the report so I can't comment on the rankings or any potential methodological issues.  But to keep the focus on Canada for today, the Frontier Centre's press release includes this interesting commentary:

Frontier’s director of research, Mark Milke, notes Canada’s showing occurred in the absence of constitutional protection for private property. “Canada is lucky to have a certain historical and legal framework of respect for property rights. However, and regrettably, property rights are not yet a guaranteed right. As such, the protection of property in Canada is akin to rule by a monarch. You’re lucky if the king or queen is benevolent, but out of luck if the monarch is unwise, unjust or foolish.”
In Canada, governments can still expropriate at will with no constitutional protection for family assets. This has occurred over the decades in almost every Canadian province notes Milke.
Milke concludes that "Canada needs a constitutional amendment to ensure property rights become a Charter right.”
In the meantime, the USA-Canada property-rights comparison will focus more immediately on a little "ice-use" dispute in Vancouver. 
UPDATE: By the way, congratulations on the gold, Canada.
Matt Festa

Comparative Land Use, Property Rights | Permalink

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Thanks for this interesting post. Of course, as you note, the real interesting stuff is in the methodology. What I find initially surprising is that Scandinavian countries rank so highly. I would have expected property to be heavily regulated in those countries, and therefore, in the eyes of some property rights advocates, not well protected.

Posted by: Tim Iglesias | Mar 1, 2010 9:19:14 AM


I had the same reaction--don't we always hear about how the Scandanavian countries are quasi-socialist? Perhaps they score well on the measures in the study because of their relative affluence, homogeneity, and manageable growth. Very interesting, though.

Posted by: Matt Festa | Mar 2, 2010 9:30:48 PM

Or maybe the high ranking just shows a methodological flaw--yes, Scandinavia has always favoured "functional socialism" which permits a high degree of regulation along with a high degree of private property ownership. Is there an apples and oranges comparison going onhere?

Posted by: mark Crawford | Apr 29, 2010 8:32:07 AM