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The Boundaries of Private Property

Michael A. Heller

Columbia University - Columbia Law School

April 1999

University of Michigan Law School, Law and Economics Working Paper No. 99-010

The American law of property encourages people to create wealth by breaking up and recombining resources in novel ways. But fragmenting resources proves easier than putting them back together again. Property law responds by limiting the one-way ratchet of fragmentation. Hidden within the law is a boundary principle that keeps resources well-scaled for productive use. Recently, however, the Supreme Court has been labeling more and more fragments as private property, an approach that paradoxically undermines the usefulness of private property as an economic institution and Constitutional category. Identifying the boundary principle threads together disparate property law doctrines, clarifies strange asymmetries in property theory, and unknots some takings law puzzles.

Note: A revised version of this working paper has been published in the Yale Law Journal, Vol. 108, No. 5, 1999.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 62

JEL Classification: D7, K1, P1

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Date posted: December 31, 1999  

Suggested Citation

Heller, Michael A., The Boundaries of Private Property (April 1999). University of Michigan Law School, Law and Economics Working Paper No. 99-010. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=173851 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.173851

Contact Information

Michael A. Heller (Contact Author)
Columbia University - Columbia Law School ( email )
435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10025
United States
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