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The Elgar Companion to the Economics of Property Rights

The Elgar Companion to the Economics of Property Rights

Elgar original reference

Edited by Enrico Colombatto

Economics is a matter of choice and growth, of interaction and exchange among individuals. Because property rights define the rules of these interactions and the objects of exchange, it is vital to fully understand the institutions and implications of the various property-rights regimes. With over 20 original and specially commissioned chapters, this book takes the reader from the historical and moral foundations of the discipline to the frontiers of scholarly research in the field.

Chapter 10: Property Rights Systems and the Rule of Law

Ronald A. Cass

Subjects: economics and finance, public choice theory, public sector economics, politics and public policy, public choice


Ronald A. Cass* Introduction Tolstoy’s novel, Anna Karenina, starts famously with the observation that ‘All happy families resemble one another; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own fashion’. The opposite is more nearly true in respect to the rule of law. Though many societies with differing governance structures and legal systems adhere in their own ways to the rule of law, societies that derogate from it do so in more similar fashion. In other words, it is easier to identify departures from the rule of law than to explain why particular actions conform to it. The rule of law matters to people around the world because it is a concomitant of a society that is successful and, in all likelihood, just (see Harvey 1961; Barnett 2001, pp. 136–44; Cass 2001, pp. xi–xii). It does not guarantee justice or social welfare, but it does correlate with justice and social welfare (under virtually any accepted definition of those terms). That is why the concept has such broad appeal. A critical aspect of the commitment to the rule of law is the definition and protection of property rights – rights to control, use, or transfer things (broadly conceived), including rights in intangibles such as intellectual property. Societies in which it is relatively easy to secure property rights, to protect them against infringement, to gain recompense when rights are infringed, and to transfer property rights in whole or in part to individuals who value them more highly, are more likely...

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