Public Choice

, Volume 163, Issue 1–2, pp 201–222 | Cite as

Further towards a theory of the emergence of property

  • Bart J. WilsonEmail author


This article explores the emergence of property as a moral convention. To understand this process I make use of several laboratory experiments on property in its nascence. These experiments illustrate how a rule of property arises from our knowledge of what is morally right, and not vice versa. I also argue that while the ultimate end of property is our interest in using things, the proximate end of property is not losing them, i.e., the end of a rule of property is to secure from morally unfounded harm.


Property Property rights Rules Rule‐following Experimental economics 

JEL Classification

B12 C90 K11 



I wish to thank Jeffrey Kirchner, without whose creative software programming this research program would not have been possible, and Joshua Rains for his capable research assistance. Sarah Skwire provided key leads for thinking about this paper, for which I dearly thank her. I also thank PERC for their generous hospitality and financial support as a Lone Mountain Fellow during the summer of 2013, and I gratefully acknowledge financial assistance from the NSF (SES 1123803). Comments from the Editor, Dan Benjamin, Eric Claeys, Kyle Hampton, Erik Kimbrough, David Rojo Arjona, Ron Rotunda, Sarah Skwire, Taylor Jaworski, Vernon Smith, and seminar participants at PERC have improved the arguments and exposition of the article. Lastly, I am indebted to my co-authors for many stimulating and fun conversations on a topic that normal people would consider rather dull.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Economic Science InstituteChapman UniversityOrangeUSA

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