Property lost in translation

Abraham Bell, Gideon Parchomovsky

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


The world is full of localized, nonstandard property regimes that coexist alongside state property laws. This Article provides the first comprehensive look at the phenomenon of localized property systems and the difficulties that necessarily attend the translation of localized property rights. Rather than survey the numerous localized property systems in the world, this Article explores the common features of the interaction between localized and state property systems. All localized property systems entail translation costs with the wider state property systems around them. Translation costs result from incompatibilities, as well as information and enforcement costs. Focusing on translation costs, the Article examines the pressures for localized systems to converge into larger state systems, as well as the features of localized property that may keep it distinct. Additionally, it shows that state protection of localized property systems (such as Norwegian protection of the property rights of the indigenous Sami people) may sometimes lower translation costs but may also lower the utility of the localized systems through poor incorporation into state law. Understanding localized property systems has important implications for understanding the nature of property. Property law systems, like other legal systems, have greater utility with greater numbers of adherents. Thus, using the insights of the economics of network effects is crucial to understanding property. Another potential insight stemming from our analysis is in the theory of commons property: translation costs must be taken into account when examining collective action solutions to tragedies of the commons.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)515-573
Number of pages59
JournalUniversity of Chicago Law Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


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