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Two Cheers for the Bundle-of-Sticks Metaphor, Three Cheers for Merrill and Smith


  • Robert C. Ellickson


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.

Suggested Citation

  • Robert C. Ellickson, 2011. "Two Cheers for the Bundle-of-Sticks Metaphor, Three Cheers for Merrill and Smith," Econ Journal Watch, Econ Journal Watch, vol. 8(3), pages 215-222, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:ejw:journl:v:8:y:2011:i:3:p:215-222

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Adam Mossoff, 2011. "The False Promise of the Right to Exclude," Econ Journal Watch, Econ Journal Watch, vol. 8(3), pages 255-264, September.
    2. Jain, Satish (ed.), 2010. "Law and Economics," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198067733, June.
    3. Daniel B. Klein & John Robinson, 2011. "Property: A Bundle of Rights? Prologue to the Property Symposium," Econ Journal Watch, Econ Journal Watch, vol. 8(3), pages 193-204, September.
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    More about this item


    Property; bundle of rights; exclusion; legal realism; law and economics;

    JEL classification:

    • A1 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics
    • K00 - Law and Economics - - General - - - General (including Data Sources and Description)
    • K1 - Law and Economics - - Basic Areas of Law


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