William and Mary Law School

Introduction

Lynda L. Butler           

Property matters—whenever and wherever complex societies are involved. It may not exist in the same form or in the same situation or provide the same rights and powers, but wherever complex societies exist, their members have found a way to have property rights. Sometimes that way is formal and deliberate and sanctioned. Other times it is informal, arising from customs, cultural norms, or even outlaw behavior. Property matters because of the human desire to control resources for the protection of self and family and because, as complex societies develop, their emergent economic systems create wealth, enhancing a society’s well-being. Property rights are essential to that process, providing the framework for creating, trading, and managing this wealth and for maximizing the benefit of invested labor and capital for individual participants and their society.

A society’s political system, of course, must secure property rights to enable peaceful transfers to occur in the marketplace and to encourage investment. The degree to which property rights are secure will determine, in large part, how much wealth is created and how accepted the society’s political, economic, and property systems are. Cultural norms will affect the structure, the meaning, and the nature of property rights. As long as political and cultural values share enough common meaning, property rights can coalesce around those shared meanings and provide a fundamental set of rules to govern allocation and use of resources. Property systems, in other words, are a common characteristic of complex human societies worldwide.

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1 BRIGHAM-KANNER PROPERTY RIGHTS CONF. J. 1 (2012)