Scholarly Comments on Academic Economics

Bundle-of-Sticks Notions in Legal and Economic Scholarship

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Abstract

The phrase “bundle of rights” does not serve as an accurate conceptual definition of property. Nor has that phrase provided a helpful metaphor as used in Ronald Coase’s article “The Problem of Social Cost” (1960) and subsequent legal and economic scholarship. Coase’s usage portrays property rights as a collection of individualized permissions to use an asset, when in sound conceptual usage “property” signifies a domain of authority to decide how to use the asset. The “bundle” metaphor may be understood to state that an owner has a right to deploy his property in any specific manner fairly implied by his general rights of ownership. Although this metaphorical usage is helpful, it remains parasitic on a sound conceptual definition of property. Property is best conceived of as a right securing a normative interest in determining exclusively the use of an asset external to the person of the owner.