Legal Origin from Outer Space

Miguel F. P. de Figueiredo (University of Connecticut)
Daniel Klerman (University of Southern California)
John P. Wilson (University of Southern California)
Matthew B. Hall (University of Connecticut)
Beau MacDonald (University of Southern California)

Abstract : This article advances the debate over legal origins by using satellite imagery of nighttime lights as a proxy for economic activity and by employing geographic regression discontinuity analysis to control for observable and unobservable factors correlated with location, such as climate and culture. The basic legal structure of most countries was imposed by colonial powers, but Great Britain, France and other European nations did not colonize in a random way. The lack of random assignment means that simple cross-country analysis may lead to erroneous conclusions because of unobservables correlated with legal origin. Regression discontinuity analysis is especially promising for Africa, because many borders were drawn in Europe by diplomats and bureaucrats who had only the haziest knowledge of local conditions, except in coastal areas. As a result, borders split ethnic groups, and areas on either side of the border are similar along observable dimensions and presumably on unobservable ones as well. By comparing African border regions with the same ethnic group on both sides, but which have civil law on one side and common law on the other, or where one side was colonized by one European country (e.g. Britain) and the other side by another (e.g. France or Portugal), one can partially disentangle the influence of law and other colonial policies, controlling for geography, climate, and pre-colonial culture. Analysis suggests that countries with common law legal origin do not perform consistently better than those with civil law.

Informal Property Rights in the Art Market

Anja Shortland (King's College , London)
Sami Winton (Cranfield University)

Abstract : Commercial certainty requires secure property rights. In advanced economies citizens implicitly assume that the law defines ownership and that they can rely on the state for enforcement. However, we show that formal property rights can be contradictory, fluid, and impossible to enforce – especially in global markets. Legal titles are insecure if there are socially legitimate claims for the restitution, transfer, or restriction of private property rights. We consider such socially legitimate claims as informal property rights: supported by social norms but without basis in domestic law. We study the global art market to examine the relative strength of formal vs informal property rights, the private institutions created to protect informal property rights or resolve conflict between rival claimants, and the responses of policy-makers to shifting social norms. We analyse whether owners of objects with rival claimants choose to resolve or evade ownership disputes based on transaction cost theory.

Property As a Complex System

Henry Smith (Harvard University)

Abstract : Current property theory assumes a direct connection between the purposes of property and various facts about the world. Despite a concern about complexity, true complexity in the sense of systems theory – dense interconnection between the elements of a system – is systematically downplayed or ignored. The possibility that the resources, their attributes, and the property law devices built around them show “organized complexity” supplies the missing ingredient that helps provide better static and dynamic accounts of entitlement structure, remedies, and systemic concepts like possession.