Friday, November 23, 2012

The Interstate Highway System is Awesome


As millions of Americans contemplate the long journey home after the holiday, it's easy to forget that the interstate highway system is a real miracle:

In an article in the Review of Economics and Statistics in 1994, Ishaq Nadiri and Theofanis Mamuneas looked at the impact of the highway system. In all but three of the 35 industries they studied, costs fell sharply—by 24 cents for each $1 invested in the highways—thanks to easier and cheaper transport. As a result, the authors reckoned, the highway system had a big impact on productivity. During the late 1950s, they said, interstate-highway spending was responsible for 31% of the annual increase of American productivity (at a time when the economy was growing at 6% a year). Its contribution to productivity growth obviously slackened over time, but in the 1960s was still about 25%, before falling to 7% in the 1980s as the system neared completion.

Steve Clowney

November 23, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tarrant on Obligations as Property

TarrantJohn Tarrant (Western Australia) has posted Obligations as Property (University of New South Wales Law Journal) on SSRN.  Here's the abstract:

A widely asserted proposition is that all property rights are rights in rem and that rights in personam, such as debts and bank accounts, are not property rights. The proposition was advocated by John Austin based on his interpretation of Roman law. The obvious difficulty with the proposition is that it is irreconcilable with the case law because a number of cases from ultimate appellant courts confirm that debts are property rights. The author examines relevant case law and interpretations of Roman law to argue that the proposition that all property rights are rights in rem is based on a misunderstanding of Roman law. The author concludes that the assertion should be rejected as erroneous. Debts in the form of money obligations owed by one person to another are indeed property rights.

Steve Clowney

November 23, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

In honor of the holiday, it's fun to recap the argument that private property saved the pilgrims. Benjamin Powell, an economist at Suffolk, tells the story here:

Many people believe that after suffering through a severe winter, the Pilgrims’ food shortages were resolved the following spring when the Native Americans taught them to plant corn and a Thanksgiving celebration resulted. In fact, the pilgrims continued to face chronic food shortages for three years until the harvest of 1623. Bad weather or lack of farming knowledge did not cause the pilgrims’ shortages. Bad economic incentives did.

In 1620 Plymouth Plantation was founded with a system of communal property rights. Food and supplies were held in common and then distributed based on equality and need as determined by Plantation officials. People received the same rations whether or not they contributed to producing the food, and residents were forbidden from producing their own food. . . . Because of the poor incentives, little food was produced.

Faced with potential starvation in the spring of 1623, the colony decided to implement a new economic system. Every family was assigned a private parcel of land. They could then keep all they grew for themselves, but now they alone were responsible for feeding themselves. This change, [the Pilgrims recorded], had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been. Giving people economic incentives changed their behavior.  Once the Plymouth Plantation abandoned their communal economic system and adopted one with greater individual property rights, they never again faced the starvation and food shortages of the first three years.

This is a yarn that makes the property-lizard part of my brain start tingling.  However, it doesn't really explain how the Indians managed to survive here for thousands and thousands of years.

Again, happy turkey day.

Steve Clowney

November 22, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Truly Disadvantaged Places

The Chronicle of Higher Education has published a lengthy article on William Julius Wilson and the effect of geography on a person's life outcomes:

Families that moved to safer and better-off areas "improved their health in ways that were quite profound," including reductions in obesity and diabetes, says Lawrence F. Katz, a Harvard economist who is principal investigator of the project's long-run study. They showed less depression, Katz says, and "very large increases in happiness." Yet the program failed to improve other key measures, like the earnings and employment rate of adults and the educational achievement of children.

Steve Clowney

November 20, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Rule on Property Rights and Energy

Rule-tTroy Rule (Missouri) has posted Property Rights and Modern Energy (George Mason Law Review) on SSRN.  Here's the abstract:

Property law has evolved and adapted throughout its existence in response to social and technological change. In this era of increasing focus on sustainable energy, new property rights disputes arising from innovations in the energy industry are once again stretching the bounds of property law. As novel energy strategies spread across the country, they are raising complex property questions involving wind currents, sunlight, deep underground mineral deposits, airspace, subsurface pore space, and other resources.

Resource governance regimes that reflect the unique characteristics of emerging energy technologies can play a valuable role in the nation’s continued pursuit of energy sustainability. Unfortunately, despite volumes of legal scholarship on the evolution and structuring of property rights regimes, there is little consensus among lawmakers or within the legal academy regarding how best to adapt such regimes to modern energy innovation. Courts and legislatures are increasingly feeling pressure to alter long-established property arrangements to accommodate and encourage new forms of energy development. At what point do these adjustments go too far, excessively compromising fairness and efficiency goals in an effort to promote a new energy strategy?

This short article, written for a joint program of the Natural Resources and Energy Law and Property Law Sections of the American Association of Law Schools at the Association’s 2013 Annual Meeting, offers some general guidelines for adjusting property rights regimes to accommodate new energy innovations. This article suggests that, when feasible, policy actions that merely clarify ambiguities in existing law are often the simplest and most cost-effective way to respond when important technological advancements place pressure on longstanding property structures. When such policies are inadequate or unavailable, the most equitable and efficient adjustments to property arrangements tend to be those that respect rather than disregard property owners’ existing entitlements.

Steve Clowney

November 20, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, November 19, 2012

How to Behave in Public Space

This weekend the NY Times ran a great piece about social norms and public space in the guise of a description of the quiet car on Amtrak. The punchline:

Respecting shared public space is becoming as quaintly archaic as tipping your hat to a lady, now that the concept of public space is as nearly extinct as hats, and ladies.

Steve Clowney

November 19, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

The Personal Property of Insane Asylum Patients


One of my favorite essays about property (which has been given wide circulation by the Perspectives on Property Law reader) is Erving Goffman's look that how patients in mental institutions carve out little domains of private property for themselves. Goffman shows how even in highly controlled societies, people define themselves by their claims over things and spaces.  Last week the website,, posted an fascinating piece that helps the public visualize the actual property of asylum patients.  Both the piece and the accompanying photos are worth a gander:

If you were committed to a psychiatric institution, unsure if you’d ever return to the life you knew before, what would you take with you? That sobering question hovers like an apparition over each of the Willard Asylum suitcases. From the 1910s through the 1960s, many patients at the Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane left suitcases behind when they passed away, with nobody to claim them. Upon the center’s closure in 1995, employees found hundreds of these time capsules stored in a locked attic. Working with the New York State Museum, former Willard staffers were able to preserve the hidden cache of luggage as part of the museum’s permanent collection.

Photographer Jon Crispin has long been drawn to the ghostly remains of abandoned psychiatric institutions. After learning of the Willard suitcases, Crispin sought the museum’s permission to document each case and its contents. In 2011, Crispin completed a successful Kickstarter campaign to help fund the first phase of the project, which he recently finished. Next spring, a selection of his photos will accompany the inaugural exhibit at the San Francisco Exploratorium’s new location.

Steve Clowney

November 19, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Arnold & Gunderson on the Management of Natural Resources

Tony Arnold (Louisville) and Lance Gunderson (Emory) have posted Adaptive Law (Book Chapter) on SSRN.  here's the abstract:

This book chapter proposes a bold sweeping set of characteristics of "adaptive law": features of the legal system that promote the resilience and adaptive capacity of both social systems and ecosystems. Law, particularly U.S. law, has been characterized as ill-suited to management of natural resources and the environment for resilience and sustainability. The maladaptive features of U.S. law include narrow systemic goals, mononcentric, unimodal, and fragmented structure, inflexible methods, and rational, linear, legal-centralist processes. This book chapter proposes four fundamental features of an adaptive legal system: 1) multiplicty of articulated goals; 2) polycentric, multimodal, and integrationist structure; 3) adaptive methods based on standards, flexibility, discretion, and regard for context; and 4) iterative legal-pluralist proceses with feedback loops and accountability. It then discusses these four features in the context of several socio-ecological issues and identifies needs for future study and development of adaptive law, particularly in light of panarchy theory about how complex, adaptive, interconnected systems change over time.

Steve Clowney

November 19, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)