How the Hidden Rules of Ownership Control Our Lives
“Mine” is one of the first words babies learn, and by the time we grow up, the idea of ownership seems natural, whether we are buying a cup of coffee or a house. But who controls the space behind your airplane seat: you, reclining, or the squished laptop user behind you? Why is plagiarism wrong, but it’s okay to knock off a recipe or a dress design? And after a snowstorm, why does a chair in the street hold your parking space in Chicago, while in New York you lose both the space and the chair?
In Mine!, Michael Heller and James Salzman, two of the world’s leading authorities on ownership, explain these puzzles and many more. Remarkably, they reveal, there are just six simple rules that everyone uses to claim everything. Owners choose the rule that steers us to do what they want. But we can pick differently. This is true not just for airplane seats, but also for battles over digital privacy, climate change, and wealth inequality. Mine! draws on mind-bending, often infuriating, and always fascinating accounts from business, history, courtrooms, and everyday life to reveal how the rules of ownership control our lives and shape our world.
Heller (The Gridlock Economy), a professor of real estate law at Columbia Law School, and Salzman (Drinking Water), an environmental law professor at UCLA, examine how competing principles of ownership shape human behavior in this illuminating account. According to Heller and Salzman, there are only six stories that "everyone uses to claim everything." They walk readers through each of these concepts, contending, for example, that foraging laws, copyright regulations, and mineral extraction rights all involve competing ownership principles of labor ("You and you alone deserve to reap what you sow"), possession ("This is mine because I'm holding on to it"), and attachment ("It's mine because it's connected to something that's mine"). By identifying these principles and understanding them as rival stories rather than hard-and-fast rules, voters and lawmakers will be better equipped to deal with issues such as climate change and the social costs of the sharing economy, according to Heller and Salzman. They stuff their survey with intriguing legal cases and historical lessons and display flashes of wit. Readers will gain fresh insights into the law and society from this entertaining and instructive guide.