Hence are apparent the cause of the decay of arts amongst the Turks; and of the neglect and want of care in manuring and cultivating their lands; why their houses and private buildings are made slight, and not durable for more than ten or twenty years; why you find there no delightful orchards, and pleasant gardens and plantations; and why, in those countries where nature hath contributed so much on her part, there are no additional labors of art to complete all, and turn it into a paradise. For men, knowing no certain heir, nor who shall succeed them in their labors, contrive only for a few years enjoyment. And moreover, men are afraid of showing too much ostentation or magnificence in their palaces, or ingenuity in the pleasures of their gardens, lest they should bring on them the same fate that Naboth’s vineyard occasioned to its Master.

—Thomas Gordon. Cato’s Letters No. 50, An Idea on the Turkish Government, Saturday, October 28, 1721.

This is the story of every Third World country. The people have no security in their property, and if they exert themselves and build up anything of value it risks being confiscated. Those who look for the source of the Third World’s ills in racial or colonial stereotypes are following red herrings. Hernando De Soto has described in methodical and reasoned detail the true cause of Third World poverty in his book, The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else. (First published by Basic Books in 2000.)

The same affliction attends all socialist countries. In Britain in the 1970s the government taxed dividends and rents at 95 percent. This meant there was no value at all in owning shares or rental property. Industry was starved of investment, and rental properties were abandoned to the squatters and rats. By 1978 the whole country fell into a bitter torpor known as the Winter of Discontent. It was only brought back to a modicum of prosperity by the temporarily renewed respect for private property implemented by Margaret Thatcher.

This article is an extract from the book ‘Principles of Good Government’ by Matthew Bransgrove