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.
Sunday, October 30, 2011
Greg Lastowka (Rutgers-Camden) has posted Property Outlaws, Rebel Mythologies, and Social Bandits, Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy, Vol. 20, p. 377, 2010, reviewing Eduardo Peñalver and Sonia Katyal's book, Property Outlaws: How Squatters, Pirates, and Protesters Improve the Law of Ownership (Yale Univ. Press 2009).
Lastowka notes that he agrees with much of the authors' analysis, and highlights a few areas of disagreement: (1) he suggests that the popular image of outlaws in society is actually not all that bad; (2) there are a great many outlaws who are "bad" and don't offer any socially useful outcomes; (3) whenever redistributionist outlawry is necessary, that is the sign of a failed state, and therefore should not necessarily be celebrated; (4) while property disobedience can be heroic for the information value it communicates, it likewise should not be necessary unless there is a breakdown in functioning democratic society.
[Note that the above synopis is mine and not the author's, since the review essay didn't include an abstract].
Friday, October 28, 2011
After slogging through the Mahon and Penn Central cases (booorrring), it's always a relief to start talking about Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council. The reason is simple: Justice Scalia knows how to keep us entertained. In particular, Scalia loves to get sassy in his footnotes. I'm sure readers have their favorites, but one of mine is footnote 8 of the Lucas opinion, which in addition to being enjoyable, is also very illuminating. I spend about 20 minutes of class time discussing this footnote and its implications for both takings law specifically and land use law more generally, including the intractable NIMBY problem.
The basic holding of Lucas is that a state regulation that deprives property of all economic value (i.e., a "total wipeout") is a per se taking, subject to a few caveats and exceptions that I'm not going to get into here. Footnote 8 takes on Justice Stevens's argument, in dissent, that the "total wipeout" rule is arbitrary because the landowner who suffers a 95% wipeout gets no compensation while the landowner who suffers a 100% wipeout gets 100% compensation. Scalia's response: that result "is no more strange than the landowner whose premises are taken for a highway (who recovers in full) and the landowner whose property is reduced to 5% of its former value by the highway (who recovers nothing). Takings law is full of these 'all-or-nothing' situations." To illustrate this hypothetical, I draw the following picture on the board:
I then ask my students the question left unanswered by this hypo: why does Owner "A," whose land is taken for the highway, get full compensation, whereas Owner "B", whose land is substantially devalued by the siting of a highway adjacent to his home, get nothing?
Friday, October 21, 2011
Antonio Azuela (UNAM) has published Property in the Post-post-revolution: Notes on the Crisis of the Constitutional Idea of Property in Contemporary Mexico, 89 Tex. L. Rev 1915 (2011). In it he raises a number of questions important to comparativists and property theorists alike through discussion of a series of recent Mexican land law controversies. Here is a summary from the Law Review website:
Professor Azuela responds to a critical lack of contemporary constitutional scholarship concerning property rights in Mexico. He argues that current problems affecting property rights in Mexico stem from a variety of social and political issues, including eminent domain and the tragedy of the commons. Given this variety, theoretical models are often lacking, so Professor Azuela proposes a research agenda that will address weaknesses, account for the constitutional and social-science dynamics of the debate.
Monday, October 17, 2011
Richard Epstein (NYU) has written Littoral Rights under the Takings Doctrine: the Clash between the Ius Naturale and Stop the Beach Renourishment, 6 Duke J. Const. L & Pub. Policy 37 (2011). He begins with the point that, due to the self-contradictory nature of judicial takings in a unitary court system, "the doctrine of judicial takings can, in practice, only arise in a federalist system." He goes on to argue for an appropriate deployment of centralized, federal oversight of state courts in defense of age-old, decentralized ius naturale. He sees Stop the Beach as a missed opportunity to invalidate years of Florida precedent as well as the Preservation Act that occasioned the controversy. He concludes that application of the judicial takings doctrine "should be limited to those circumstances in which the decided cases make a radical break from well-established common law patterns that systematically work for the advantage of the state or some identifiable private faction."
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Patricia Salkin (Albany) and Daniel Gross (Albany) have posted International Comparative Property Rights: A Cross-Cultural Discipline Comes of Age. The paper is being given this weekend at the Brigham-Kanner Conference, which is being held in Beijing this year. The abstract:
This article provides an overview of the differences and similarities among a select group of nations through an examination of their real property protection regimes. The countries selected – South Africa, India, Chile, Singapore and Ghana – were chosen to illustrate how geographical, social, and economic diversity all contribute to different property rights cultures and legal approaches. Part II of this article examines general international or global factors that affect property rights. Part III offers a focused look at the historical and cultural development of property rights in the five selected countries. Part IV follows with a discussion of some of the domestic factors present in these five different countries that contribute to or influence the development and enforcement of different property rights regimes. The article concludes in Part V with a discussion about the importance of understanding the property rights regimes in other countries to better enable practitioners to provide responsible legal counsel to clients.
This one looks really interesting for those who are looking at comparative perpsectives. There have been a lot of land use and property related articles posted recently (I think we're probably two articles behind just on Prof. Salkin's recent work!)-- we'll be bringing them to you soon . . . and if you have an article that you'd like us to post about, let us know.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Lisa Alexander (Wisconsin) has posted Cultural Collective Efficacy, Social Capital and Place-Based Lawmaking: Revisiting the People Versus Place Debate. In it she renews the debate between those who advocate improving geographic communities and those who emphasize increasing options for economically and socially mobile households. Here's the abstract:
U.S. housing law is finally receiving its due attention. Scholars and practioners are primarily focused on the subprime mortgage and foreclosure crises. Yet, the current recession has also resurrected the debate about the efficacy of place-based lawmaking. Place-based laws direct economic resources to low-income neighborhoods to help existing residents remain in place and to improve those areas. Law-and-economists and staunch integrationists respectively attack place-based lawmaking on economic and social grounds. This Article examines the efficacy of place-based lawmaking through the underutilized prism of culture. Using a socio-legal approach, it develops a theory of cultural collective efficacy as a justification for place-based lawmaking. Cultural collective efficacy describes positive social networks that inner-city residents develop through participation in musical, artistic and other neighborhood-based cultural endeavors. Cultural collective efficacy can help inner-city residents mitigate the negative effects of living in a poor and segregated community as well as obtain more concrete benefits from urban revitalization. It provides a framework to examine important microdyanmics in the “inner-city” that many scholars and policymakers have ignored. This Article devises new combinations of place-based laws that might protect cultural collective efficacy such as: (1) historic districts with affordable housing protections secured through transferable development rights, (2) foreclosure prevention strategies, (3) techniques to mitigate eminent domain abuse, and (4) re-interpretations of the Fair Housing Act’s “affirmatively furthering” fair housing mandate. These examples of place-based lawmaking may more effectively promote equitable development and advance distributive justice in U.S. housing law and policy.
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Michael Diamond (Georgetown) has posted Shared Equity Housing: Cultural Understanding and the Meaning of Ownership, a chapter in the recently published book The Public Nature of Private Property (Ashgate, Malloy and Diamond, eds.). In it, he examines the place of affordable homeownership resale restrictions in broader notions of private property. Here's the abstract:
In this paper I examine whether shared equity limitations that are sometimes applied to subsidized affordable housing creates for the owners of such housing a second class ownership status. I conclude that they do not. In support of this conclusion, I look at the meaning of property from both cultural and historical perspectives. I argue that property and ownership are culturally constructed concepts that are understood differently in different cultures and in the same culture over time. I examine the series of limitations that have been placed on property in industrial societies and argue that the limitation on equity is just another in a long list of limitations that society has imposed on ownership in favor of a supervening social good, in this case, the preservation of affordable housing for future generations of low-income homeowners.
Michael and the other contributors to this book have presented at the wonderful Association for Law, Property and Society annual meetings that he and Robin Paul Malloy have organized these past couple of years at Georgetown. Registration for the 3rd Annual Meeting this coming March has recently opened and will remain so until January 20th.
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Hillary M. Hoffman (Vermont) has posted Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs: The Wilderness Society v. Kane County Leaves Everyone Confused About Navigating a Right-of-Way Claim Under Revised Statute 2477. The abstract:
The Tenth Circuit’s recent decision in The Wilderness Society v. Kane County has changed the landscape of litigation arising out of Revised Statute 2477, a provision of the Mining Act of 1886 repealed by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976. Prior to this decision, the presumption was that the United States owned all federal public lands unless an adverse claimant proved otherwise. Moreover, any adverse claimant was required to bring an action under the Quiet Title Act to divest the federal government of title to its property. This decision turns both of those presumptions inside-out, provided that states and counties assert rights under R.S. 2477, regardless of whether they can be proven. This Article explores the history of R.S. 2477, its repeal by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, and the Tenth Circuit’s historical treatment of R.S. 2477 claims. It also discusses why the Tenth Circuit’s holding in the Kane County case misconstrues the nature of an R.S. 2477 dispute, overlooks long-recognized presumptions about federal ownership of federal land, and ignores the myriad of legal issues involved in an R.S. 2477 dispute. Lastly, it makes specific suggestions about how the Tenth Circuit should address litigation surrounding the growing number of R.S. 2477 battles in years to come, to enable litigants and lower courts to more easily navigate this complex area of law.
An important issue, and on a tangent, the title reminds me how I keep trying in Property I to illustrate the right to exclude with clips from the Five Man Electrical Band, but kids today don't seem to dig it.
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Econ Journal Watch has published an online symposium featuring a number of short pieces by leading scholars debating the "bundle of rights" characterization of property, which has been critiqued over the past few years. Titled Property: A Bundle of Rights, 8 Econ Journal Watch 193 (2011), the symposium was organized by George Mason economist Daniel B. Klein and PhD student John Robinson. The abstract to their Prologue:
This piece is the Prologue to an Econ Journal Watch symposium entitled, Property: A Bundle of Rights? This Prologue was written to prompt the invited scholars to expound their own criticisms of the bundle-of-rights view, or, as the case may be, to address criticisms out there. The Prologue is written from a staunch yet pragmatic classical liberal perspective. It frames a number of issues, provides a series of quotations, and asks a number of questions intended to prompt the symposium participants. The symposium participants include leading critics of the bundle formulation James E. Penner, Thomas W. Merrill, and Henry E. Smith; younger critics Larissa Katz, Eric R. Claeys, and Adam Mossoff; eminent defenders of the bundle formulation Stephen R. Munzer and Richard A. Epstein; and the renowned property scholar Robert C. Ellickson, who takes a middle position.
The articles are all posted online and should make fascinating reading for all teachers of the subject and anyone interested in property theory.