Two Stories about the Evolution of Property Rights
This article shows that for virtually every move toward privatization or, moving in reverse, toward the reopening of access to property, there are conflicting explanations. One is transaction-cost based and optimistic, while the other implicates interest groups and arouses suspicions rather than celebrations. It will normally be difficult to know which explanation is more fitting. Examples range from highways, to intellectual property rights, to tennis courts, and then to licensing regimes. These examples draw attention to the possibility of an evolutionary path that runs from a commons to private property and then back to a commons. The normative ambiguity inherent in the dual stories about change infects most property right transformations, including the simplest cases of newly emerged property rights. The presence of competing stories creates problems for normative judgments about secure private property and about government intervention that opens or restricts access. Copyright 2002 by the University of Chicago.
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