Evolution and chaos in property rights systems: The Third World tragedy of contested access

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

130 Citations (Scopus)


According to conventional law-and-economics theory, private property rights tend to evolve as resource values rise. This optimistic assessment fails to explain the development of open access in many Third World property systems. Indeed, while the evolution of property has been studied extensively, scholars have paid relatively little attention to the evolution of open access itself. This Essay presents a theoretical analysis of open access that focuses on contested institutional interactions between laws, norms, and agreements. It argues that rising resource values are more likely to lead to open access than private property when the institutional environment is characterized by competing legal and norm-based systems. The Essay concludes that to understand property failures in contemporary Third World circumstances, we must move beyond conventional evolutionary analysis to taxonomic formulations based on the nature and interaction of property enforcement arrangements.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)996-1048
Number of pages53
JournalYale Law Journal
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2006
Externally publishedYes

Cite this