As you surely know, I believe that a strong system of property rights protections is the foundation of a prosperous and free society. Property rights emerge from human custom when there is an economic incentive for them to be defined and defended. Harold Demsetz has a great article discussing this process, but it is not freely available online. It is well worth getting a copy.
Demsetz, Harold “Toward a Theory of Property Rights,” American Economic Review 57, 2, p. 347-359, 1967. Available at JSTOR.
In any event, here is the problem. I see property rights as the foundation of freedom and prosperity and among the most important institutions on earth. As you are also well aware, I view the institution of government as inherently ineffective because of the incentive/feedback problems that prevent it from responding to competitive pressures like most private enterprises face. There is, too, the problem of public choice which can contaminate the effectiveness of political processes.
Nonetheless, if “put on the stand” I would argue for a limited government whose primary reason for existence is the protection and defense of private property rights. Indeed, as Locke wrote in his Second Treatise, “The great and chief end therefore of men uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of property.”* But do we not see here my internal contradiction? If I argue that government power is to be treated very carefully and that if we ought not expect excellent outcomes to occur with regularity when government is involved, then how do I happily entrust it to take care of the most precious institution for the preservation of a free society? Is this not the mother of all contradictions? Are we limited government types a ball of hypocrisy? I don’t think so, and I’ll leave it for you guys to think about over this fine holiday weekend.
*Incidentally, Locke argued just after this that if a ruler violated the property of his subjects, the subjects could consider this an act of war and rebel against it.