Property rights are associated with individual freedom and economic prosperity.
The clear allocation of property rights is said to avoid the tragedy of the commons – the overuse of resources that might lead to their demise. The flip side of the tragedy of the commons is the tragedy of exclusion. Demarcating property rights and allocating exclusive use rights necessarily implies exclusion of others. This may be tolerable as long as the excluded are assured alternative avenues to freedom and prosperity. It is morally repugnant, if they are excluded from resources that are essential for their survival. Beyond Property Rights explores the ambivalence of property rights in the context of globalization. Just societies therefore cannot rely on individual property rights protection alone. They need to complement them with governance regimes that adapt and constrain them to ensure that all have access at least to essential resources. How such governance regimes should look like is a central theme of ongoing research.
A series of workshops and panel discussions explored the operation of property rights in the global context and their alternatives.
Workshops and Colloquia
Global Property Regime explored the notion of increasing convergence on a property regime that favors individual property rights, including the right to exclude. A workshop organized in the fall of 2010 brought together researchers working on different aspects of property rights, including land rights and intellectual property, and the protection of foreign investments under domestic and international law.
Triangulating Property Rights focused on possible alternatives to individualized property regimes and put forward three baseline conditions for governing access to critical resources: equity (fair access), efficiency (improved productivity and growth) and (environmental) sustainability. A panel discussion was held in November 2012 co-sponsored with Columbia’s Heyman Center for the Humanities
Governing Access to Essential Resources took the further step specifying the challenge of moving beyond property rights by posing the question how to govern resources that are deemed essential whether for survival or participation in society as a viable member. Drinking water was selected as the paradigmatic case of an “essential resource”. Land served as a comparative benchmark to explore the analytical power of this concept.
A conference on this topic was held at Columbia Law School in June 2013, which was co-sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the Max Planck Society/Humboldt Foundation. It brought together senior academics from different disciplines and postdocs from around the globe to explore how different societies govern essential resource; what constraints they face; and whether they measure up to the normative goals, which were identified as Voice and Reflexivity.
The results of this conference were published in a book by the same title. To ensure universal access to the research findings the Center has sponsored a free web version of the book, which is available at http://cupola.columbia.edu/governing-access-to-essential-resources/
Beyond Property Rights goes global In 2014, the Center organized workshops and teach-ins in Bangalore and Mumbai (India), and Istanbul (Turkey) to further explore how governance regime could be designed to help avoid the tragedy of exclusion. The workshops in Mumbai and Istanbul were co-sponsored by Columbia University’s global centers for South Asia and Turkey. http://globalcenters.columbia.edu/