Advanced Topics in Liberty: Property Rights & Freedom

Nothing determines just where we stand with others like property. It is our territory. It is our domain. It is where we build our castles. But what exactly are our rights? How are property rights related to justice and legitimacy? These questions and many others are the kinds of thought-provoking considerations that will be tackled in this rigorous Advanced Topics in Liberty Seminar on property rights. This invitation-only seminar is perfect for aspiring academics.

Advanced Topics in Liberty: Property Rights & Freedom

Readings will be mailed to each participant before the seminar. Please read each selection carefully to prepare for small group discussion on each piece.

Session I - Origins of Property Rights.

 What are property rights? What are the origins of property rights and how did they first emerge? What were the respective roles of government and spontaneous processes in this regard?

Pipes, Richard. Property and Freedom. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999. Chapter 1, “The Idea of Property” (pages 3–63) and notes (pages 293–298).

Session II - Philosophical Bases for Property Rights.

 How can private property rights be defended philosophically? How are we to understand the term “private property” from theoretical perspectives? What is the relationship between individual liberty and the power to exclude that is entailed by property rights? How do the philosophical defenses relate to the empirical account of their origins?

Locke, John. Two Treatises of Government (Student Edition). Edited by Peter Laslett. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988. Chapter 5, “Of Property” (pages 285–302).

Nozick, Robert. Anarchy, State and Utopia. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1974. Selection from Chapter 7, “Distributive Justice” (pages 149–182) and notes (pages 344–345).

Session III - Markets and Property Rights.

What is the economic significance of property rights? What (in the nature of markets) makes them vital? What has been the importance of property rights for economic development? How common is the so-called “tragedy of the commons?” Can a commons co-exist with private property?

Demsetz, Harold. “Toward a Theory of Property Rights.” American Economic Review 57, No. 2 (1967): 347–359.

North, Douglass C. and Robert Paul Thomas. The Rise of the Western World: A New Economic History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973, 1999, 2006. Chapter 1, “The Issue” (pages 1–8), Chapter 2, “An Overview” (pages 9–18), and Chapter 3, “Property Rights in Land and Man” (pages 19–24).

Ostrom, Elinor. Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990. Chapter 1, “Reflections on the Commons” (pages 1–28).

Session IV - Property Rights and the Rule of Law.

What is the relationship between an effective system of property rights and the rule of law? What judicial arrangements are conducive to respect of private property? How does the classical liberal understanding of property compare to the modern liberal understanding? What are the implications of those different understandings for the rule of law?

Hume, David. A Treatise of Human Nature. Edited by David Fate Norton and Mary J. Norton. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. Part 2: The Text: Book 3, Part 2, Section 2, “Of the origin of justice and property” (pages 311–322), Section 3, “Of the rules, which determine property” (pages 322–330), and Section 4, “Of the transference of property by consent” (pages 330–331).

Epstein, Richard A. “Property Rights and the Rule of Law: Classical Liberalism Confronts the Modern Administrative State.” Mont Pelerin Society Meeting, Sweden, August 17, 2009.

Session V - Property Rights: Cultural Contexts.

How is the evolution and practice of property rights influenced by culture? What specific cultural elements, if any, are necessary for the stability of a system of property rights? What determines the possibility of moving from limited access orders to open access orders?

Bethell, Tom. The Noblest Triumph: Property and Prosperity Through the Ages. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1999. Chapter 3, “Plato’s Conceit: Property at Jamestown and Plymouth” (pages 33–43), Chapter 21, “China, Property, and Democracy” (pages 327–341), and notes (pages 345–346 and 368–370).

North, Douglass C., John Joseph Wallis and Barry R. Weingast. Violence and Social Orders: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Selections from Chapter 5, “The Transition from Limited to Open Access Orders: The Doorstep Conditions” (pages 148–154).

Session VI - Critiques of Property Rights.

Do the arguments in favor of private property rights hold when challenged by their strongest critics? What are the main Marxist and utilitarian arguments questioning private property rights? What understanding of the market economy and what assumptions about man’s motives and character guide such arguments? Should property rights be understood as constraining the legitimate actions of government, or should they be understood as a government mechanism for the production of desirable social outcomes?

Cohen, G. A. Self-ownership, Freedom, and Equality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Chapter 3, “Self-Ownership, World-Ownership and Equality” (pages 67–91).

Murphy, Liam and Thomas Nagel. The Myth of Ownership: Taxes and Justice. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. Chapter 1, “Introduction” (pages 3–11), selection from Chapter 2, Part VII, “The Problem of Everyday Libertarianism” (pages 31–37), and notes (pages 191 and 196).