Losers: Recovering Lost Property in Japan and the United States
61 Pages Posted: 18 Jun 2002
Date Written: June 14, 2002
This Article examines the lost property regime of Japan, which has one of the most impressive reputations in the world for returning lost property to its rightful owner, and compares it with that of the United States. Folk legend attributes Japanese success to honesty and other-regarding preferences. In this Article, relying in part on analysis of official data, history, and statutes, as well as surveys, interviews, and "lost-wallet" experiments conducted in New York and Tokyo, I discuss another possible reason for the apparent success of lost-and-found in Japan: legal institutions that efficiently and predictably allocate and enforce possessory rights. These recognized, centuries-old rules mesh with norms, institutional structures, and economic incentives to reinforce mutually the message that each sends and yield more lost-property recovery than altruism alone.
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