This paper asks how property rights in the financial system can be normatively justified. It argues that in the current financial system, we find property rights with very different normative bases, some of which are stronger than others. In fact, there is a systematic gap between the normative priorities (which property rights deserve protection?) and the de facto priorities (which property rights are in fact protected?). I draw on the three traditional approaches for justifying property rights, along Hegelian, Lockean and consequentialist lines, and ask how relevant they are for the property rights that one finds in today’s financial system. As it will turn out, Hegelian and Lockean justifications are better suited for the “real economy” than for the financial system; whereas the most promising approach for justifying many property rights within the financial system (if they can be justified at all) is a consequentialist one. This implies that reform proposals, for example with regard to higher capital ratios for banks, cannot be countered by holding that they interfere with property rights, for the property rights that are interfered with cannot claim to have stronger normative bases than the normative principles involved in the reform proposals.
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