Legal scholars have never settled on a satisfactory account of the evolution of property rights. The touchstone for virtually all discussion, Harold Demsetz’s Toward a Theory of Property Rights, has a number of well-known (and not so well-known) shortcomings, perhaps because it was never intended to be taken as an evolutionary explanation in the first place. There is, in principle at least, a pretty straightforward fix for the sort of evolutionary approach pursued by followers of Demsetz, but even then that approach – call it the conventional approach – fails to account for very early property rights, right at the genesis. The early developments are better explained by a very different approach based on evolutionary game theory. The game theoretic approach can account for a basic system of property rights rooted in possession; it cannot, however, account for complex property systems. To explain the latter requires the conventional approach. Hence, the two approaches combined suggest a satisfactory account of the origins and development of property rights systems.
Law and Economics | Property Law and Real Estate | Public Law and Legal Theory
Date of this Version
James E. Krier, "Evolutionary Theory and the Origin of Property Rights" (April 2009). University of Michigan Program in Law and Economics Archive: 2003-2009. Working Paper 98.