Economic Rights

According to English philosopher John Locke, one chief reason that people unite into a society is the “preservation of their property.” Thomas Jefferson called the chance to enjoy the fruits of one’s industry the “first principle” of society. The law is therefore designed to encourage industry and initiative.

Economic rights are protected by the Constitution in the powers of Congress listed in Article I, Section 8: “To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.” Congress also has the power to regulate interstate commerce under the Commerce Clause. The Fifth Amendment protects the individual’s private property by requiring the government to pay “just compensation” when it takes property for “public use.”

In an 1860 speech, Abraham Lincoln argued that that slavery was unjust because it denied slaves’ economic rights: “I want every man to have the chance—and I believe a black man is entitled to it—in which he can better his condition—when he may look forward and hope to be a hired laborer this year and the next, work for himself afterward, and finally to hire men to work for him! That is the true system.”

Acts of Congress that affected economic rights include the Pure Food and Drug Act, the Interstate Commerce Act, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, the Social Security Act, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Sixteenth Amendment gave the federal government the power to tax personal incomes, since paying taxes is a responsibility of citizenship. Supreme Court cases involving economic rights include Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1818), Gibbons v. Ogden (1824), Barron v. Baltimore (1833), and Youngstown Company v. Sawyer (1952).