Monday, July 24, 2006

Original Acquisition and Subsequent Property Rights

I've been looking for some new subjects to add to my Property Theory seminar in the fall.  One issue that I've been thinking about lately is the significance of an original acquisition or distribution of property that can be deemed illegitimate, and its impact on subsequent title.  Even the most ardent defenders of property rights tend to suggest that to be entitled to legal protection, property must have been acquired in a legitimate manner.  Defining "legitimate", of course, can be difficult, so I've been looking for some examples to use to generate discussion.  Brazil and Hawaii come to mind as examples of original distributions that were highly concentrated and therefore are controversial.  The acquisition of state assets in post-Communist Russia also raises some interesting questions.

Even if the original acquisition was improper, what then?  There is a decent argument that subsequent acquisitions through legitimate transactions should give subsequent owners good property rights, at least in some situations.  But there might be some original acquisitions that create such a moral stain that it is possible to argue that subsequent good faith purchasers don't get good title.  It occurred to me that this argument might have come up in reparations debates.  I know next to nothing about reparations (which is why I'm really looking forward to reading Al's new book when it is  out), but I'm sure Al can enlighten me about how this type of argument has played out in reparations debates.

In any event, suggestions for readings on this subject would be very welcome.

Ben Barros

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