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Property Rules or the Rule of Property? Carol Rose on the History, Theory, and Rhetoric of Ownership

  • Jeremy Adelman



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1 Friedrich Hayek, The Road to Serfdom (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1944) (“Hayek, Road to Serfdom”)

2 Rose, , Property and Persuasion at 3; for a slightly different take on her debts to Bentham, see her “Property as a Keystone Right?” 71 Notre Dame Law Rev. 330 (1996); Jeremy Bentham, The Principles of Morals and Legishtion (New York: Macmillan, 1948, orig. 1780 & 1789).

3 Coase, R. H., “Law and Economics at Chicago,” 36 J. L. & Econ. 239, esp. 248–50 (1993).

4 Lord Robbins, Autobiography of an Economist 105–31 (London: Macmillan, 1971); Elizabeth Durbin, New Jerusalems: The Labour Party and the Economics of Demomaric Socialism 101–36 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985).

5 Coase, R. H., “Economics at the LSE in the 1930s,” 10 Atlantic Econ. J. 3134 (1982); Coats, A. W., “The Distinctive LSE Ethos in the Inter-War Years,” 10 Atlantic Econ. J. 1830 (1982)

6 Coase, 36 J. L. & Econ., at 243–48. I do not wish to obscure important discrepancies and tensions within this group. For a useful sample, see George Stigler, “Law or Economics?” 30 J. L. & Econ. 455–68 (1992).

7 Hayek, Road to Serfdom and his “History and Politics,” in Hayek, ed., Capitalism and the Historians 3–29 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1954); T. E. Flanagan, “F. A. Hayek on Property and Justice,”in Anthony Parel & Thomas Flanagan, eds., Theories of Property: Aristotle to the Present 355–57 (Waterloo, Ont.: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 1979). I leave aside Hayekian implications of his version of the rule of law for democratic theory, although there are some quite obvious insalubrities, both in formulation and legacy. On the relationship between Carl Schmitt's critique of liberalism and Hayek, see Cristi, F. R., “Hayek and Schmitt on the Rule of Law,” 17 Can. J. Pol. Sci. 521–35 (1984). On the gruesome fallout of this world-view in Latin America, see Juan Gabriel Valdéz, Pinochet's Economists: The Chicago School in Chile (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), and on the left‘s efforts to come to terms with this force majeure, see Jeffrey M. Puryear, Thinking Politics: Intellectuals and Democracy in Chile, 1973–1988 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994). For a Hayekian theory of democracy, see Wittman, Donald, “Why Democracies Produce Efficient Results,” 97 J. Pol. Econ. 13951424 (1989).

8 Douglass C. North, “A Theory of Institutional Change and the Economic History of the Western World,”in Michael Hechter, ed., The Micro-Foundations of Macrosociology 190–215 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1983), and id., Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990); Demsetz, Harold, “Some Aspects of Property Rights,” 9 J. L. & Econ. 6070 (1966), and Demsetz, Harold & Alchian, Armen, “The Property Rights Paradigm,” 33 J. Econ. Hist. 1627 (1973). For an effort to place bargaining in a non-level-playing-field setting, and thus confront the problem of systematic asymmetries, see Ayes, Ian & Gertner, Robert, “Strategic Contractual Inefficiency and the Optimal Choice of Legal Rules,” 101 Yale L. J. 729–67 (1994).

9 William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, 4 vols. (London, orig. 1765–69); Kennedy, Duncan, “The Structure of Blackstone's Commentaries,” 28 Buff. L. Rev. 205382 (1979).

10 Douglas C. North & Robert Thomas, The Rise of the Western World: A New Economic History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973).

11 Munzer, A Theory of Property (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990).

12 J. G. A. Pocock, Virtue, Commerce and History: Essays on Political Thought and History, Chiefly in the Eighenth-Century (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985).

13 Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, esp. at 17–20 (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1976). For a broader discussion, see Albert Hirschman, The Passions and the Interests: Political Arguments for Capitalism before Its Triumph (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1977) (“Hirschman, Passions”), and Donald Winch, Adam Smith‘s Politics: An Essay in Historigraphic Revision (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978).

14 For further discussion of her retrieval of doux commerce, see also Rose's, Giving, Trading, Thieving and Trusting: How and Why Gifts Become Exchanges, and (More Importantly) Vice Versa,” 44 Fla. U. L. Rev. 295317 (1992).

15 North, Structure and Change in Economic History, passim (New York: Norton, 1981).

16 For a classic case, see Garrett Hardin, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” 162 Science 1243–48 (13 Dec. 1968); and more recently, with a “property rights” spin, see Gary Libecap, Locking up the Range: Federal Land Controls and Grazing (San Francisco: Pacific Institute for Public Policy Research, 1981), and his extended discussion of “common pool problems” in Contracting for Property Rights (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989). For a parallel story involving seafood, see Agnello, Richard J. & Donnelley, Lawrence P., “Property Rights and Efficiency in the Oyster Industry,” 18 J. L. & Econ. 521–33 (1975).

17 Morton J. Horwitz, The Transformation of American Law, 1780–1860, esp. chap. 2 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1977).

18 This fits, as Rose shows, Thomas Merrill's argument that as transaction costs mount, law becomes more discretionary, or “judgmental,” and conversely, as transaction costs fall, law becomes more “mechanical,” yielding to all-or-nothing solutions. See Merrill, , “Trespass, Nuisance and the Costs of Determining Property Rights,” 14 J. Legal Stud. 1348 (1985).

19 It is worth underscoring the complexity with which she treats exchange–but it is exchange nonetheless. See her article in 44 Fla. U. L. Rev., esp. at 315.

20 In this sense, Rose also offers something of an alternative reading the evolution of discourses about rights from Mary Ann Glendon's counter-“hyperindividualist” Jeremiad. See Glendon, Rights Talk: The Impovershment of Political Discoure (New York: Free Press, 1991).

21 This itself, as Rose acknowledges, is a classical formulation, explored by Hirschman in Passions.

22 C. B. Macpherson, The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism: Hobbes to Locke (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962). This of course does not mean that Macpherson's account of the political language framing the origins of capitalism was entirely accurate but simply that he captured a widespread view about contractarian origins of commercial society.

23 Basu, Kaushik, Jones, Eric & Schlicht, Ekkehart, “The Growth and Decay of Custom: The Role of the New Institutional Economics in Economic History,” 24 (4) Explorations Econ. Hist. 121 (1987); Bates, Robert H., “Contra Contractarianism: Some Reflections on the New Institutionalism,” 16 Politics & Soc'y 387401 (1988), id., “Social Dilemmas and Rational Individuals: An Assessment of the New Institutionalism,”in J. Harris, J. Hunter, & C. M. Lewis, eds., The New Institutional Economics and Third World Development 27–48 (London: Routledge, 1995).


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