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

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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 [2] 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 [3].  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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