Wednesday, December 2, 2009

"Evolutionary Theory and the Origin of Property Rights"

James Krier, the Earl Warren DeLano Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School, has published a thought-provoking and readable short essay under that title in the new issue of the Cornell Law Review (here). Starting from Harold Demsetz's (problematic) economic theory of property rights (which Demsetz now claims, contrary to the interpretation of virtually all commentators, was never intended to describe an evolutionary process), and utilizing the findings of evolutionary biologists and game theorists, Krier considers  two imperfect approaches - "intentional design" and "unintended consequences" - for describing how property regimes evolve or develop over time, as circumstances change. The conclusion he reaches - I'll not spoil it for you by revealing it here - may not be particularly novel, but the analysis by which he gets there is persuasive. The essay is a little gem, which should be required reading in any Property Theory course or seminar.

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