People as Resources: Recruitment and Reciprocity in the Freedom-Promoting Approach to Property

78 Pages Posted: 2 Nov 2006


Property law both facilitates the efficient use and allocation of scarce resources and recognizes and protects aspects of personhood. Human beings are both resources for one another and the persons whose moral importance the legal system seeks to protect. This article explores how property law has addressed this paradox in the past and how it might in the future.

Two bodies of nineteenth-century law highlighted this paradox: the law of labor discipline for slaves in the antebellum South and for free workers in the laissez-faire "Lochner era." The law struggled over how to balance recognition of laborers' bodies as resources with regard for them as legal persons. These jurisprudential problems tracked contemporary debates in political and economic thought about the nature of property in human beings. Both the legal and the more theoretical debates responded to the underlying problem of designating a boundary between those respects in which people are to be regarded as resources and those in which their personhood comes first. Disputes over this boundary are disputes over both the use of resources and the moral importance of human beings.

This analysis illuminates the stakes of two contemporary issues: voluntary peer production in digital media and the entrance of Indian women into the paid workforce. Both demonstrate how legal, technological, and social changes in people's approach to others as resources interact with changes in how people do or may value one another. When the resource-regime changes are in the direction of greater reciprocity, they may help to produce a more robust conception of personhood and a more egalitarian and attractive social life.

Suggested Citation

Britton-Purdy, Jedediah S., People as Resources: Recruitment and Reciprocity in the Freedom-Promoting Approach to Property. Duke Law Journal, 2006, Duke Law School Legal Studies Paper No. 135, Available at SSRN:

Jedediah S. Britton-Purdy (Contact Author)

Columbia University - Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10025
United States

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