Thinking about our mixed economy in which government and the market intermingle, I have always gravitated to this quote from former Secretary of the Treasury, Lawrence Summers:
- “In the history of the world, nobody has ever washed a rented car.”
And now, doing a bit of research on the colonial United States, I wanted to share the same ideas from 18th century economist Arthur Young:
- “The magic of property turns sand into gold.”
- “Give a man the secure possession of a bleak rock, and he will turn it into a garden; give him a nine years’ lease of a garden, and he will convert it into a desert.”
Finally though, maybe this comment from a blogger at The Economist can take us a step further. His example is a case study on military airplanes and how maintenance workers who had long term oversight of the same equipment felt “ownership” more strongly than specialists who were responsible for the engine or the wing of thousands of aircraft. His point is that it all depends on how the job is structured.
My bottom line? In our mixed economy, can we retain the incentives of “ownership?’
Sources and Resources: I recommend reading the entire blog from The Economist for a full discussion of the origins and limits of the Summers quote. And, for slightly more about Arthur Young, here is a brief bio.
3 giant redwoods were the problem. The issue was the view. Does a property owner have the legal right to a view of San Francisco Bay that his neighbors’ trees are blocking? Or, do the neighbors have the right to the privacy the trees provide?
A view or privacy? What are the bounds of property rights when 3 increasingly tall redwoods are involved? The founder of Oracle, Larry Ellison, hired a tree attorney to get an answer.
Scheduled for their court hearing on June 6th, the case was settled privately. The neighbors told Mr. Ellison that they would trim the trees.
The Economic Lesson
Central to a market economy, property rights need to be dependable, predictable and preservable. Also, though, the boundaries of property rights need to be defined.
The “ancient lights” doctrine, from English common law, said that a property owner could prevent a neighbor from erecting a structure that blocked the sunlight he had been enjoying. Proclaiming that the importance of towns and villages superseded such broad property rights, U.S. courts ignored the “ancient lights.”
You can see that Mr. Ellison’s suit had deep historic roots.
An Economic Question: Your opinion about the following hypothetical dispute? Passed in 1978, California’s Solar Shade Act enforces a consumer’s right to install solar energy technology. Also, a local ordinance protects irreplaceable trees. Neighbor A has historic redwoods on their property. Neighbor B installs solar panels that the redwoods block. Both neighbors are environmentally proactive. Should the trees be destroyed or the solar panels removed? Explain.
When you shovel a parking space, does it remain yours when you pull out? In Boston, if you shovel out your car during a snow emergency, the space is yours for at least two days. Just “reserve” it with a lawn chair or trash can.
-Federal employees will be paid for snow days. The total? Close to $100 million a day.
-Snow removal costs are exceeding all estimates. Virginia is beyond its $104 allocation. Philadelphia’s Mayor Nutter just said “We’ll figure out budget issues later.” Weeks ago, a Wisconsin town clerk said they would only plow curves, intersections, and hills.
The headline said, “Robot Snowplow from Japan Eats Up Snow, Poops Out Bricks.” The snow bricks are then deposited in a river
The Spanish Society of Authors (SGAE) receives a steady stream of income from Spain