Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Ellickson on the Bundle of Sticks

Last fall we posted about the Econ Journal Watch Symposium "Property: A Bundle of Rights?," with contributions from a number of leading scholars.  Just recently, Robert Ellickson's contribution was posted on SSRN, and it's worth a highlight: Two Cheers for the Bundle-of-Sticks Metaphor, Three Cheers for Merrill and Smith, Econ Journal Watch, Vol. 8, No. 3, p. 215, September 2011.  The abstract:

Viewing property rights as a “bundle of sticks” can be descriptively clarifying because the law commonly entitles an owner of a particular resource to split up entitlements in it. Nonetheless, Thomas Merrill and Henry Smith, the most prominent critics of the metaphor, assert that this conception both ignores the existence of various legal constraints on the decomposition of property rights, and also encourages lawmakers to support the excessive splintering of entitlements. These concerns are well-grounded. More controversial are Merrill and Smith’s inclinations to equate private property with property generally, to deny that human capital can be characterized as property, and to assert that affirmative duties never attach to property ownership.

All of the essays from the Bundle Symposium are very, very interesting.  We've previously mentioned the ones by Larissa Katz and Stephen Munzer.  As many of us begin the Property course this spring semester, it's incredibly helpful to read all of these fresh insights and thoughtful debates that make the classic metaphor still relevant.

Matt Festa

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