Are Property Rights Usefully Regarded as Sticks in a Bundle of Rights?

by Don Boudreaux on September 14, 2011

in Law, Property Rights

My GMU colleague Dan Klein doesn’t like the now-familiar (at least to scholars in law-and-economics) characterization of property rights as being sticks in a bundle of rights – as in, for example, one of the “sticks” in the “bundle” of rights that I have as owner of a piece of land in Fairfax County, VA, is to grant to my neighbor an easement to cross my land; should I convey (by whatever means) such an easement to my neighbor, I’d transfer to him one of the “sticks” in my larger “bundle” of rights.

I’ve always liked the “sticks-in-a-bundle” conception.  (I think that I first encountered this idea, not in the legal literature, but in something that Armen Alchian wrote.)  But, as I say, Dan thinks this idea to be flawed, or at least misleading.

The latest (Sept. 2011) issue of Dan’s own Econ Journal Watch is a collection bundle of articles, on this very issue, by some of America’s leading legal scholars.  I’m eager to absorb it all.

Some of the questions that Dan tells me he’s especially eager to have debated include:

What do you make of this issue?  Do you think it is “merely” a definitional or semantic dispute of little importance?

If you do think it important, where do you stand?  Is describing property as a “bundle of rights” inimical to classical liberalism, or is it, as Richard Epstein contends, a bulwark for classical liberalism?


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