The Importance of Viewing Property as a System

San Diego L Rev. Vol. 58, 73 (2021)

William & Mary Law School Research Paper No. 09-421

29 Pages Posted: 29 Aug 2020 Last revised: 2 Jun 2021

Date Written: April 23, 2021


Serious questions are now being raised about the viability of American capitalism and the American property regime that enables capitalism to exist and thrive virtually without constraint. Those questions arise in the context of global problems of extremes that threaten the integrity of Earth’s biophysical systems and undermine the stability of political and social systems. Western-style property regimes stress the importance of unrestrained marketplace transactions and the decision making of self-interested property owners. The American approach, in particular, legitimates the power of property owners to decide how and when to use and manage their property. The approach assumes that each owner makes rational decisions, maximizing the owner’s welfare and therefore the welfare of society. The problems of extremes now developing on a global level, however, provide important feedbacks that call into question the validity of the assumptions and norms of the American approach. Can the core norms and principles of western-style property regimes adapt to curb excesses inherent in the dominant form of capitalism? Answering this critical question requires an understanding of the structure of property that enables property law to evolve, react to changing conditions, and take into account new information and knowledge about current physical and social realities. The key to taking this step is to view property as a system with a complex structure and embedded norms and operating principles that fail to reflect current biophysical and social conditions.

Keywords: Property, Property Rights, Law and Society, Property Theory, Law and Economics

Suggested Citation

Butler, Lynda L., The Importance of Viewing Property as a System (April 23, 2021). San Diego L Rev. Vol. 58, 73 (2021), William & Mary Law School Research Paper No. 09-421, Available at SSRN:

Lynda L. Butler (Contact Author)

William & Mary Law School ( email )

South Henry Street
P.O. Box 8795
Williamsburg, VA 23187-8795
United States

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