More is not always better than less: An exploration in property law

Daphna Lewinsohn-Zamir*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


The common intuition that "more is better than less" often lies at the heart of arguments regarding legal rules. It supports the belief that the right to take an extreme measure with respect to property encompasses the right to take a more moderate one. For example, scholars have claimed that since owners are free not to transfer their assets-but rather destroy or sell them before death-then they should be entitled to bequeath those assets subject to conditions. As more property is better than less, and some property better than none at all, it is better to inherit property subject to restrictions or conditions than to inherit nothing. It follows that the law should permit moderate measures, lest owners are induced to opt for extreme measures, resulting in less property to other individuals. This Article advances the counterintuitive view that more is not always better than less. First, this Article shows that numerous legal rules reject the "more is better than less" argument, and restrict moderate measures relating to property more than extreme measures. In many cases, owners have more freedom to use property than to avoid using it, more power to destroy property than to modify or neglect it, and more liberty not to transfer property than to transfer it conditionally. Second, this Article argues that this seemingly puzzling state of affairs rests on sound normative grounds and on widely tested behavioral observations. Three justifications are advanced for greater scrutiny and intervention in the case of moderate-rather than extreme-measures regarding property rights: protecting potential property transferees, reducing the incidence of low-valuing owners, and correcting distributive errors. These rationales can serve to evaluate and critique existing rules in property law as well as in other legal spheres, such as labor law, zoning law, and contract law.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)634-713
Number of pages80
JournalMinnesota Law Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 2008


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