Michael Heller on Gridlock and American Politics
Michael Heller is one of America’s leading authorities on property. He is the Lawrence A. Wien Professor of Real Estate Law at Columbia Law School.
His new book The Gridlock Economy: How Too Much Ownership Wrecks Markets, Stops Innovation, and Costs Lives was released in 2008. In The Gridlock Economy, Heller draws on everyday experiences - from airport delays to new-style rap music - to show why the structure of ownership matters so much more than people may realize. Private ownership usually creates wealth, but too much ownership has the opposite effect - it creates gridlock. This is a free market paradox that Heller discovered and it's the dynamic at the center of our gridlock economy.
Question: Is gridlock ever okay?
Michael Heller: So, people sometimes ask me, is gridlock always such a bad thing? And the answer is no. Sometimes, we actually want gridlock. So the way, for example, the American political system was set up with checks and balances, checks and balances is another word for gridlock. Any senator can block a bill. So, sometimes, we want gridlock in politics, sometimes, because it slows down too fast, too quick legislating. It basically can cool tempers. It can prevent tyranny of the majority. So, gridlocks sometimes can be useful in the political sense. Juries, in criminal juries, we require unanimity. Any individual can block the decision. And why do we do that? Because we really care more about protecting the rights of the innocent. So there are places in the economy and places in the legal system where we place, where gridlock can have some real value. So, instead of a tragedy of the commons, you might have what I call in the book a comedy of the anticommons. Sometimes, having people to be able to block each other is a good thing, but most of the time, for most resources, tragedies of the anticommons are wasteful and destructive.
The system of checks and balances in the American political system is an example of positive gridlock, says Michael Heller.