Common Ownership and Equality of Autonomy

59 Pages Posted: 20 Jun 2014

See all articles by Anna di Robilant

Anna di Robilant

Boston University - School of Law

Date Written: June 19, 2014


In recent years, common ownership has enjoyed unprecedented favour among policy-makers and citizens in the United States, Canada, and Europe. Conservation land trusts, affordable-housing co-operatives, community gardens, and neighborhood-managed parks are spreading throughout major cities. Normatively, these common-ownership regimes are seen as yielding a variety of benefits, such as a communitarian ethos in the efficient use of scarce resources, or greater freedom to interact and create in new ways. The design of common-ownership regimes, however, requires difficult trade-offs. Most importantly, successful achievement of the goals of common-ownership regimes requires the limitation of individual co-owners’ ability to freely use the common resource, as well as to exit the common-ownership arrangement. This article makes two contributions. First, at the normative level, it argues that common ownership has the potential to help foster greater “equality of autonomy”. By ““equality of autonomy”, I mean more equitable access to the material and relational means that allow individuals to be autonomous. Second, at the level of design, this article argues that the difficult trade-offs of common-ownership regimes should be dealt with by grounding the commitment to equality of autonomy in the context of specific resources. In some cases, this resource-specific design helps to minimize or avoid difficult trade-offs. In hard cases, where trade-offs cannot be avoided, this article offers arguments for privileging greater equality of autonomy over full negative freedom.

Keywords: property law, property theory, legal history

JEL Classification: K11, K19

Suggested Citation

di Robilant, Anna, Common Ownership and Equality of Autonomy (June 19, 2014). McGill Law Journal, Vol. 58, No. 2, 2012, p. 263, Boston Univ. School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 12-56, Available at SSRN:

Anna Di Robilant (Contact Author)

Boston University - School of Law ( email )

765 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
United States

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