The Ecological and Civil Mainsprings of Property: An Experimental Economic History of Whalers’ Rules of Capture
This paper uses a laboratory experiment to probe the proposition that property emerges anarchically out of social custom. We test the hypothesis that whalers in the 18th and 19th century developed rules of conduct that minimized the sum of the transaction and production costs of capturing their prey, the primary implication being that different ecological conditions lead to different rules of capture. Holding everything else constant, we find that simply imposing two different types of prey is insufficient to observe two different rules of capture. Another factor is essential, namely that the members of the community are civil-minded.
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