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Cowboys and Contracts


  • Anderson, Terry L
  • Hill, Peter J


This article expands Harold Demsetz's seminal work on property rights by arguing that property rights entrepreneurs discover previously unowned or unpriced attributes of a resource and capture rents by defining and enforcing rights to those attributes. To keep the rents from these new uses from being dissipated in the tragedy of the commons, the entrepreneur must contract to exclude others from the value of his perception. We describe specific and general contracting and use the frontier of the American West to illustrate the two. A central theme is that smaller, homogeneous groups are more likely to prevent rent dissipation and that more centralized political processes are more likely to encourage it. Copyright 2002 by the University of Chicago.

Suggested Citation

  • Anderson, Terry L & Hill, Peter J, 2002. "Cowboys and Contracts," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 31(2), pages 489-514, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jlstud:v:31:y:2002:i:2:p:s489-514

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Joskow, Paul L, 1988. "Asset Specificity and the Structure of Vertical Relationships: Empirical Evidence," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 4(1), pages 95-117, Spring.
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    Cited by:

    1. Skarbek, David, 2012. "Prison gangs, norms, and organizations," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 82(1), pages 96-109.
    2. Lee J. Alston & Edwyna Harris & Bernardo Mueller, 2009. "De Facto and De Jure Property Rights: Land Settlement and Land Conflict on the Australian, Brazilian and U.S. Frontiers," NBER Working Papers 15264, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Benito Arruñada, 2014. "The Titling Role of Possession," Working Papers 767, Barcelona Graduate School of Economics.
    4. Ilia Murtazashvili & Jennifer Murtazashvili, 2015. "Anarchy, self-governance, and legal titling," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 162(3), pages 287-305, March.
    5. Benito ArruÒada, 2003. "Property Enforcement as Organized Consent," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 19(2), pages 401-444, October.
    6. David Skarbek, 2009. "Alertness, local knowledge, and Johnny Appleseed," The Review of Austrian Economics, Springer;Society for the Development of Austrian Economics, vol. 22(4), pages 415-424, December.

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