Monday, April 9, 2012
Larissa M. Katz (Queen's University) has an important new piece up: 'Governing Through Owners': How and Why Formal Private Property Rights Enhance State Power, forthcoming in the Pennsylvania Law Review (2012). The abstract:
A system of formal private property rights is a network of offices through which states can allocate responsibility to individuals on a mass scale for a wide variety of tasks, including some of the state’s core governance functions. A system of property rights do not straightforwardly constrain the state; in some contexts, they enhance state power, too. Because many of the state’s core governance functions are territorially defined (such as the maintenance of peace and order within the territory, defense of the territory from external threats, and the provision of infrastructure), this phenomenon appears most clearly in the case of private property rights in land. A network of landowners is a useful (and sometimes crucial) tool that enables a state to govern locally in the farthest reaches of its territory, even when it lacks the capacity or will to use other more formal tools for governance, such as governing by bureaucracy or licence. Thus, it is useful to think of the state’s power to define property rights in a manner that includes the obligation to carry out core state governance functions as itself a mode of governance. I call this “governing through owners.”
This model of state-owner relations emerges from two important conceptual starting points: first, the nature of ownership as an office through which the state assigns burdens; and second, what I call the “survival conditions” of a territorially defined state, namely, the establishment of basic governmental functions throughout its territory.
Looks like a must-read.
Monday, April 2, 2012
Eric R. Claeys (George Mason) has another new paper out: Locke Unlocked: Productive Use in Trespass, Adverse Possession, and Labor Theory. The abstract:
Most American property scholars acknowledge that “Of Property,” chapter 5 of John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, deserves a significant place in the canon of property theory. Virtually all of those scholars, however, understand Of Property in one of several manners that trivialize its argument. This Article draws on scholarship published in the last 20 years in political philosophy and intellectual history, by scholars who understand Locke to propound a theory of labor called here “productive labor theory.” Productive labor theory judges legal and other normative institutions by how effectively the domains of freedom they create in relation to external assets help a wide range of citizens extract from those assets benefits likely to contribute to their rational flourishing.
This Article restates the main tenets of productive labor theory as propounded in that political-philosophy and intellectual-history scholarship. To make productive labor theory concrete, the Article illustrates how it applies to the prima facie case of trespass to land, the remedies for ongoing encroachments, and adverse possession and a few other common defenses to trespass. To situate productive labor theory in relation to legal academics’ impressions, the Article contrasts productive labor theory with act utilitarianism, with the libertarian rendition of Lockean worked out by Robert Nozick in Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974), and with the labor-desert claims commonly associated with section 27 of the Second Treatise.
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Shelley Ross Saxer (Pepperdine) has posted Managing Water Rights Using Fishing Rights as a Model, forthcoming in Marquette Law Review Vol. 95 (2011). The abstract:
This Article addresses the need to view water rights as licenses subject to government revocation, without just compensation, in the same way that fishing rights are viewed as licenses subject to government management. It focuses specifically on the methods used to address water resource allocation in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in California, and on fish allocation issues in the Pacific Northwest. It explores property rights in water and fish, particularly in regard to Fifth Amendment takings challenges when government regulations diminish water rights and fishing rights. The Article concludes by recognizing that both water and fish resources should be managed as ecosystems and governed by the public trust doctrine, and rejecting private property rights in either fish or water as a violation of the public trust doctrine, in which public resources are given away to private interests.
Saturday, March 24, 2012
Douglas C. Harris (UBC Faculty of Law) has posted A Railway, a City, and the Public Regulation of Private Property: CPR v. City of Vancouver, published in CANADIAN PROPERTY LAW STORIES, James Muir, Eric Tucker, and Bruce Ziff, eds., Osgoode Society and Irwin Law, 2012. The abstract:
The doctrine of regulatory or constructive taking establishes limits on the public regulation of private property in much of the common law world. When public regulation becomes unduly onerous — so as, in effect, to take a property interest from a private owner — the public will be required to compensate the owner for its loss. In 2000, the City of Vancouver passed a by-law that limited the use of a century-old rail line to a public thoroughfare. The Canadian Pacific Railway, which owned the line, claimed the regulation amounted to a taking of its property for which the city should pay compensation. The case, which rose to the Supreme Court of Canada in 2006, marked that court’s first engagement with the doctrine of regulatory taking (also known in Canada as de facto expropriation) in nearly twenty years. This chapter explores the intertwined histories of a railway company and a city that gave rise to CPR v. City of Vancouver. It then analyzes the court decisions and considers the role of courts in mediating the appropriate boundary between private property and public regulation in a jurisdiction where there is no constitutional protection for private property.
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Eric R. Claeys (George Mason) has posted Bundle-of-Sticks Notions in Legal and Economic Scholarship. This piece is part of the Econ Journal Watch symposium Property--A Bundle of Rights, Vol. 8, No. 3, pp. 205-214, September 2011. The abstract:
The phrase “bundle of rights” does not serve as an accurate conceptual definition of property. Nor has that phrase provided a helpful metaphor as used in Ronald Coase’s article “The Problem of Social Cost” (1960) and subsequent legal and economic scholarship. Coase’s usage portrays property rights as a collection of individualized permissions to use an asset, when in sound conceptual usage “property” signifies a domain of authority to decide how to use the asset. The “bundle” metaphor may be understood to state that an owner has a right to deploy his property in any specific manner fairly implied by his general rights of ownership. Although this metaphorical usage is helpful, it remains parasitic on a sound conceptual definition of property. Property is best conceived of as a right securing a normative interest in determining exclusively the use of an asset external to the person of the owner.
Monday, March 19, 2012
Ezra Rosser (American) has posted The Ambition and Transformative Potential of Progressive Property , forthcoming California Law Review (2013). Last year, I posted about Ezra's presentation at the 2nd annual ALPS gathering. He's done quite a bit with it since. Here's the abstract:
The emerging progressive property school of thought champions and finds its meaning in the social nature of property. Rejecting the idea that exclusion lies at the core of property law, progressive property scholars call for a reconsideration of the relationships owners and non-owners have with property and with each other. Despite these ambitions, so far progressive property scholarship has largely confined itself to questions of exclusion and access. This paper argues that such an emphasis glosses over the race-related acquisition and distribution problems that plague American history and property law. The modest structural changes supported by progressive property scholars fail to account for this racial history and, by so doing, present a limited vision of the changes to property law that progressive scholars should support. Though sympathetic with the progressive property political and scholarly orientation and the policy arguments made regarding exclusion and access, I argue that the first priority of any transformative project of progressive property must be revisiting acquisition and distribution.
Thursday, March 15, 2012
Jerrold A. Long (Idaho), who just posted an article last week, has another one up: Waiting for Hohfeld: Property Rights, Property Privileges, and the Physical Consequences of Word Choice. The abstract:
An important part of our institutional and cultural history is our understanding of a system of property interests. The most common trajectory of land-use regulation (or the lack thereof) appears consistent with a property meta-narrative that informs multiple academic disciplines and levels of human interaction. This meta-narrative suggests that all land-use decisions begin with an assumption about the nature and extent of property rights held by potentially affected landowners, and that the ultimate end of any land-use regime is to “protect” those assumed property rights from unwarranted or unjustified intrusion by government. Because the law is a distinct linguistic environment in which word choices, and definitions, have significant consequences, the rhetorical landscape of a property dispute plays a significant role in determining the dispute’s ultimate outcome. In most land-use disputes, all participants make one important concession, or assertion, before the discussion begins. The often unchallenged assertion is the claim that the discussion is about property rights. Once a particular property interest is characterized as a “right,” the community’s political capacity to regulate that property diminishes substantially. Consequently, our decisions to characterize as “rights” those settings, circumstances and relationships that are better and more accurately understood as “privileges” changes our focus from the community to the individual, and necessarily weakens the political justification for, and community understanding of, most resource- or community-protective ordinances. This article considers contemporary property jurisprudence, theory, and conflict in a Hohfeldian context to demonstrate how our default rhetorical landscape leads to real and unnecessary negative social and environmental effects.
Henry E. Smith (Harvard) has posted what looks to be a very important property theory piece, Property as the Law of Things, forthcoming in the Harvard Law Review. The abstract:
The New Private Law takes seriously the need for baselines in general and the traditional ones furnished by the law in particular. One such baseline is the “things” of property. The bundle of rights picture popularized by the Legal Realists downplayed things and promoted the expectation that features of property are detachable and tailorable without limit. The bundle picture captures too much to be a theory. By contrast, the information cost, or architectural, theory proposed here captures how the features of property work together to achieve property’s purposes. Drawing on Herbert Simon’s notions of nearly decomposable systems and modularity, the article shows how property employs a thing-based exclusion-governance architecture to manage complexity of the interactions between legal actors. Modular property first breaks this system of interactions into components, and this begins with defining the modular things of property. Property then specifies the interface between the modular components of property through governance strategies that make more direct reference to uses and purposes, as in the law of nuisance, covenants, and zoning. In contrast to the bundle of rights picture, the modular theory captures how a great number of features of property – ranging from in-rem-ness, the right to exclude, and the residual claim, through alienability, persistence, and compatibility, and beyond to deep aspects like recursiveness, scalability, and resilience – follow from the modular architecture. The Article then shows how the information cost theory helps explain some puzzling phenomena such as the pedis possessio in mining law, fencing in and fencing out, the unit rule in eminent domain, and the intersection of state action and the enforcement of covenants. The Article concludes with some implications of property as a law of modular things for the architecture of private law.
Monday, March 5, 2012
Hanoch Dagan (Tel Aviv) has posted Inside Property, forthcoming in University of Toronto Law Journal, Vol. 63, No. 1, January 2013. The abstract:
Taking seriously the complexity and heterogeneity of property law, this Essay claims that a proper conception of property must account for both governance and inclusion. Neglecting governance obscures the significance of the internal life of property, which is often structured by sophisticated mechanisms aiming to facilitate various forms of interpersonal relationships in ways that no contractual arrangement can. Ignoring inclusion improperly marginalizes non-owners’ rights to entry in categories of cases where inclusion is an indispensable feature of the property institution under examination.
Looking inside property in these two senses requires abandoning the conception of property as an exclusive right and substituting it with a pluralist conception. Property should be understood as an umbrella for a limited and standardized set of institutions, which serve as important default frameworks of interpersonal interaction regarding various types of resources. At its best, the plurality of property configurations — the different contents of owners’ rights in these different property institutions — enables property law to vindicate differing balances among the different values that property can serve, according to the type of social relationship and the nature of the resource at stake. The pluralist conception of property, therefore, not only fits property law better; it is also the only understanding of property suitably attending to and facilitating the individuality-enhancing role of multiplicity, which is indispensable for meaningful autonomy.
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Frank Michelman (Harvard) has posted "The Property Clause Question." In this essay, the preeminent property theorist of our time offers an engaging look at the constitutional protection of private property rights that a society seeking to establish a liberal social democracy should consider. Here's the abstract:
A “property clause” is a dedicated text in the written basic law of a constitutional-democratic state, addressing the question of the security of asset-holdings (and of their values to their owners) against impairment by action or allowance of the state. The clause provides a defensive guarantee against such impairments, in the form of a trumping right of every person to be protected – perhaps not absolutely and unconditionally, but not negligibly, either – against state-engineered losses in lawfully established asset-holdings or asset-values.
How should someone writing a constitution for an expectantly “social liberal” state regime think about the question of a property clause? Without suggesting that there can be any one-size-fits-all sort of answer to the question of including such a clause or not, this paper confines itself to doubting sharply one sort of a reason our constitution-writers might consider for including one – namely, that a liberal constitutional bill of rights ought to contain clauses covering all classes of interests of persons that qualify in liberalism as basic rights and freedoms and the interest distinctively protected by a property clause does so qualify – and suggesting some pros and cons regarding a quite different sort of reason for inclusion that the writers will also undoubtedly ponder – namely, that the clause will serve to keep lawmakers and constitutional adjudicators properly attuned to a national foundational commitment to a system of political economy in which markets play a key role.
This essay, prepared as an after-dinner talk for the Conference on Constitutional Revolutions and Counter-Revolutions held at the New School for Social Research, May 5-7, 2011, is a companion to my “Liberal Constitutionalism, Property Rights, and the Assault on Poverty,” Stellenbosch Law Review (2012) (forthcoming), which treats more expansively some points made summarily here. A version of this essay will appear in Constellations 12 (2012).
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
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.
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Nestor M. Davidson (Fordham) has posted Sketches for a Hamiltonian Vernacular as a Social Function of Property, Fordham Law Review, Vol. 80 (2011). The abstract:
This symposium article examines the intersection between Léon Duguit’s concept of the social function of property, predicated on an affirmative duty on owners to put their property to productive use for the sake of social solidarity, and a tradition in the property law of the United States that similarly reflected this kind of pro-development norm. The article associates the impulse to associate ownership with a productivity oriented social function with certain Hamiltonian themes at the founding and in the early nineteenth-century salus populi tradition, and argues that the imperative remains a background norm in the United States that contrasts with classical liberal absolutism and certain strains of civic republican property norms.
Absolutely fascinating-- an original insight that makes an important contribution to our understanding of early republic property theory and its implications for property law today.
Friday, December 16, 2011
Stephen R. Munzer (UCLA) has posted A Bundle Theorist Holds On to His Collection of Sticks, Econ Journal Watch, Vol. 8, No. 3, pp. 265-73, September 2011. The abstract:
For nearly a century, most persons who have studied or written about property have conceived of it as a bundle of rights or, colloquially, as a bundle of sticks. In the mid 1990s, several philosophically minded academic lawyers questioned whether property should be thought of as a bundle at all. The impact of their work is reflected in Merrill and Smith (2007), a highly regarded and intellectually challenging casebook used in many U.S. law schools. Merrill and Smith emphasize that property is centrally a right to exclude and is generally held in rem, that is, is good against all the world. They find bundle theories of property defective for various reasons. This essay argues to the contrary. There are solid grounds for holding on to at least some bundle theories, which facilitate the careful analysis of the complexity of property. Moreover, Merrill and Smith’s criticisms are often misguided or ineffective. Lastly, their account gives an overly simple picture of property and views property law as a more unified subject than it actually is.
I haven't developed my own position on whether the bundle theory is the most accurate philosophical account of property, but I use the heck out of it in teaching. I've found that having the class think of property as a bundle of rights that can be arranged in different ways, and then extrapolating that concept over topics such as estates, future interests, co-ownership, and servitudes really helps students wrap their heads around these otherwise esoteric subjects, and provides a good framework for understanding property. I'm glad to see this short philosophical essay by Munzer to assure me that at least I'm not horribly behind the times in teaching about sticks.
Monday, November 28, 2011
Lee Anne Fennell (Chicago) has posted Ostrom's Law: Property Rights in the Commons, in the International Journal of the Commons, Vol. 5, No. 1, p. 9 (2011). The abstract:
In this symposium essay, I trace some of the ways that Elinor Ostrom’s focus on situated examples has advanced interdisciplinary dialogue about property as a legal institution and as a human invention for solving practical problems. Although the richness of these contributions cannot be distilled into a single thesis, their flavor can be captured in a maxim I call Ostrom’s Law: A resource arrangement that works in practice can work in theory. I begin by highlighting the attention to detail that characterizes Ostrom’s methodology. I then examine how Ostrom’s scholarship yields insights for, and employs insights from, property theory. Next, I consider the question of scale, an important focal point of Ostrom’s work, and one that carries profound implications for law. I conclude with some observations about interdisciplinarity as it relates to research on the commons.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Larrisa Katz (Queens U.) has posted The Regulative Function of Property Rights, 8 ECON J. Watch 236 (2011). By looking at analogous regulatory responses to private ownership, this brief essay provides a concise and unique comparison of the dominant models of property rights ("bundle of sticks" and exclusion a/k/a "stick") with her own model based on the owner's entitlement to set the agenda for a resource. Here's the abstract:
In this paper, I examine three different models of how we manage our common resources through a system of private property rights. One model (the exclusion approach) is to control owners’ decisions indirectly, through markets. Another model (the bundle-of-rights approach) is to regulate owners’ decisions directly, by setting out specifically what they can or cannot do. These first two models have in common their focus on the substantive decisions that owners make. There is a third approach that emerges from my own account of ownership as a position of exclusive agenda-setting authority. A distinguishing feature of this model is that it restricts the class of question that the owner may consider when dealing with the thing rather than the substantive answers that owners come up with.
Monday, November 21, 2011
Sheila Foster (Fordham) and Daniel Bonilla have posted The Social Function of Property: A Comparative Law Perspective, 80 Fordham L. Rev. 101 (2011). Here's the abstract:
The classical liberal conception of property dominates the modern legal and political imagination. The idea that property is a subjective and nearly absolute right controls the way in which much of modern law and politics understand this institution. Despite its ubiquity in the modern legal and political consciousness, the classical liberal conception of property competes with, and is challenged by, other forms of imagining the institution. One of these alternative concepts, and perhaps one of the most suggestive and influential of the twentieth century, is the social function of property. This concept was articulated paradigmatically by the French jurist León Duguit in a set of six lectures given in Buenos Aires in 1911. According to this view, property has internal limits—not just external ones as in the case of the liberal right to property.
The concept of the social function of property has been incorporated by a significant number of European and Latin American legal systems and been instrumental in the political struggle that has occurred in some countries to achieve a fairer distribution of land. In Latin America, for example, the social function of property was included in several constitutions and has been instrumental in justifying the agrarian and urban reform projects developed in several countries in the region. In the United States, while no legal norm includes explicitly the words “social function of property,” some U.S. legal scholars consider that a “social obligation” norm does exist in U.S. law, albeit perhaps only at the margins of property jurisprudence. According to this norm, property owners have social responsibilities to others that extend beyond the highly individualized, and atomized, conventional account of property rights.
This essay is an introduction to a symposium held at Fordham School of Law in which an impressive group of scholars from the United States and Latin America convened to examine the contemporary interpretations and use of the social function of property in Latin America and its exclusion or marginal inclusion in the U.S. The symposium papers highlight and examine the interpretations of the social function of property articulated during the last two decades by some Latin American constitutional courts, as well as the symbolic and material effects that these readings have had in the region. As many of the papers published in this issue demonstrate, the social function of property has had interesting conceptual histories and applications in Latin America. The papers also scrutinize and analyze the concepts and institutions through which the social function of property has entered the U.S. legal system and explore why these concepts and institutions have had such a limited influence. Finally, the papers identify the tensions and connections that the social function of property has with relatively new legal concepts like the ecological function of property, and to explore its connections with various historical discourses and social structures in the U.S. and Latin America.
Monday, November 14, 2011
Nestor M. Davidson (Fordham) has posted Property's Morale, 110 Michigan Law Review 437 (2011). The abstract:
A foundational argument long invoked to justify stable property rights is that property law must protect settled expectations. Respect for expectations unites otherwise disparate strands of property theory focused on ex ante incentives, individual identity, and community. It also privileges resistance to legal transitions that transgress reliance interests. When changes in law unsettle expectations, such changes are thought to generate disincentives that Frank Michelman famously labeled demoralization costs.
Although rarely approached in these terms, arguments for legal certainty reflect underlying psychological assumptions about how people contemplate property rights when choosing whether and how to work, invest, create, bolster identity, join a community, and make other decisions at property’s core. More precisely, demoralization is predicated on a kind of paralysis flowing from anxieties about instability, unfair singling out, and majoritarian expropriation that can be sparked in legal transitions.
This prevailing psychological portrait of expectations has considerable intuitive appeal and is widely influential. It is, however, distinctly incomplete. This Article offers an alternative picture of the expectations with which people approach property and the corresponding anxieties that might cause people to hesitate. From this perspective, stability is less important than assurances that the legal system will respond when external forces threaten to overwhelm the value owners create, that it will provide a fair process of adjustment over time, and that it will ensure inclusion.
In short, property law can offer morale benefits that are every bit as critical as demoralization costs. Property theory and doctrine often juxtapose ex ante certainty against ex post flexibility; however, a morale lens underscores that legal transitions can signal responsiveness as easily as instability. Doctrinally, this understanding recalibrates property law’s approach to expectation. Normatively, property’s largely ignored, but absolutely vital, morale function provides a framework for understanding how the legal system can buoy confidence in greater balance, fostering all of the work with which property is so rightly associated.
Monday, November 7, 2011
Robert Ellickson (Yale) has posted a draft of The Costs of Complex Land Titles: Two Examples from China. He presented this paper at last month's Brigham-Kanner Conference, which was held this year in Beijing instead of its usual home at William & Mary. Here's the abstract:
Chinese customs and law have traditionally prevented a land seller from conveying outright title to a buyer. The ancient custom of dian, which persisted until the 1949 Revolution, gave a land seller and his lineage an immutable option to buy back sold land at the original sale price. This little-analyzed custom discouraged soil conservation and land improvements, and, especially after 1600, contributed to China’s inability to keep pace with England.
After calamitous experiences with land collectivization between 1951 and 1981, China’s Communist government began to confer private land-use rights. But, instead of making outright sales, it chose to award contractual rights only for a fixed-term, for example, 50 years in the case of an industrial parcel. For the same reasons dian did, this policy threatens to impair China’s prospects of economic development.
Fun fact: Bob Ellickson placed 70th in the 2010 National Scrabble Championship.
Thursday, November 3, 2011
Well the title pretty much asks the basic question for all of us, right? Peter D. Burdon (Adelaide) has posted What is Good Land Use? From Rights to Relationship. The abstract:
Industrial agriculture is the dominant method for feeding an increasingly urbanised world. However, a growing body of literature suggests that industrial practices are unsustainable and risk global food security. This article examines the legal-philosophical dimension of this literature and the vision of good land use promoted in both industrial and agrarian farming practices. It argues that industrial agriculture is premised on a concept of private property that promotes individual preference satisfaction, separates people from place and fragments landscape. In response, this article examines agrarian farming practices as a means of re-conceiving private property so that it is seen to embrace not only human good, but also ethics and the land itself. By re-conceiving private property as embracing these factors, private property may offer but one solution to the agricultural crisis.
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Back when I was in law school a few of us would joke around about writing a paper on the Third Amendment, since it hardly ever comes up. But now Tom W. Bell (Chapman) has made it relevant, with 'Property' in the Constitution: The View from the Third Amendment, forthcoming in the William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal, vol. 20 (2012). The abstract:
During World War II, after Japan attacked the Aleutian Islands off Alaska’s coast, the United States forcibly evacuated the islands’ natives and quartered soldiers in private homes. That hitherto unremarked violation of the Third Amendment gives us a fresh perspective on what “Property” means in the U.S. Constitution. As a general legal matter, property includes not just real estate - land, fixtures attached thereto, and related rights - but also various kinds of personal property, ranging from tangibles such as books to intangibles such as causes of action. That knowledge would, if we interpreted the Constitution as we do other legal documents, tell us just about everything we need to know about the scope of constitutional property. Case law and commentary do not speak as plainly, however, raising troubling questions about what “Property” means each of the four times it appears in the Constitution. In particular, some authority suggests that the Takings Clause protects personal property less completely than it does real property. The unjust treatment of Aleutian natives during World War II shows the risk of giving constitutional property so peculiar and narrow a definition. This paper describes the troubling inconsistencies that afflict the law of constitutional property and invokes the Third Amendment, that oft-forgotten relic of the American Revolution, to argue for giving “Property” a plain, generous, and consistent meaning throughout Constitution.