Order Without Law? Property Rights During the California Gold Rush

41 Pages Posted: 12 Aug 2003

See all articles by Karen Clay

Karen Clay

Carnegie Mellon University - H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Gavin Wright

Stanford University - Department of Economics

Date Written: June 2003

Abstract

The paper reconsiders the nature of mining districts and property rights during the California gold rush. According to a widely accepted view advanced by Umbeck (1977, 1981), in the absence of effective legal authority, district codes established secure property rights in mining claims. Drawing on a data set of mining district codes and a simple theoretical model, we argue that the main historical features of mining districts may best be understood by viewing them not as enforcers of private property rights, but as institutions for managing access to a nonrenewable resource, in what was fundamentally an open-access context.

Keywords: property rights, institutions, gold rush

JEL Classification: K0, N0

Suggested Citation

Clay, Karen B. and Wright, Gavin, Order Without Law? Property Rights During the California Gold Rush (June 2003). Stanford Law and Economics Olin Working Paper No. 265; Stanford Univ. Economics Working Paper No. 03-008. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=420960 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.420960

Karen B. Clay (Contact Author)

Carnegie Mellon University - H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management ( email )

Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Gavin Wright

Stanford University - Department of Economics ( email )

Landau Economics Building
579 Serra Mall
Stanford, CA 94305-6072
United States

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