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Unpublished Paper
One Property, Many Properties. Designing the Liberal Egalitarian Commons
ExpressO (2011)
  • anna di robilant, Boston University
In the last two decades pessimistic accounts of common ownership, such as Hardin’s allegory of the “tragedy of the commons”, have, largely, vanished and scholars look at common ownership with novel interest. Common ownership regimes are seen as yielding a variety of desiderata: a more democratic, efficient and responsible management of natural resources, the participatory production of more diverse information and cultural artifacts, and, generally, the more efficient use of scarce resources. With few exceptions, the idea that common ownership could deliver greater economic equality has been largely absent from the commons discourse This article expands the focus of the commons debate to include “equality of autonomy”. It argues that we should design common ownership regimes that promote more equal access to resources that are important for individuals to be truly autonomous, such as housing or a plot of land. The article examines the difficulties and challenges we face in designing such regimes. Is it possible to design common ownership regimes that are both effective in fostering “equality of autonomy” and appealing to our contemporary liberal sensibility, leaving ample margin for individual co-owners’ autonomous choice and self-expression? The article turns for inspiration to 19th century and mid-20th century Europe where collective ownership was a heated topic among lawyers. It retrieves a lost analytical approach to the design of property regimes: “one property, many properties”, i.e. a resource specific analysis of property entitlements. The article argues that “liberal-egalitarian” commons can only be designed on a resource-specific basis. The difficult choices we face in designing commons that seek to promote “equality of autonomy” can only be made on a resource-specific basis. They call for robust and pluralistic discussion of the nature of and the interests involved by the particular resource at stake, be it housing or water or agricultural land.
  • property,
  • common ownership,
  • equality,
  • autonomy,
  • resources
Publication Date
August 25, 2011
Citation Information
anna di robilant. "One Property, Many Properties. Designing the Liberal Egalitarian Commons" ExpressO (2011)
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