Michael Heller on Property Law
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: How should property law be taught?
Michael Heller: I think law school education is a lot of fun. Most students, a lot of students don’t like being lawyers once they graduate because working conditions for lawyers have gotten pretty hard, long hours, a lot of stress. But law school is a lot of fun, and I think that I wouldn’t change very much in how we teach property. When we teach property, what we really are trying to get across to students is this notion that the ownership rules that we have are fuzzy, are political, have a lot of choice built into them. There’s still a lot of stability in there, I mean, how these rules go back a thousand years, a lot of them. But how they’re interpreted, any given moment requires students and legislators and lawyers and all of us to make choices about how we want to live. So there’s one point that I really tried to get across during that first year of law school is how important the role of choice is, how important the role of individual initiative is for students, that they’re not passive actors receiving some set of, you know, the phonebook. They’re in there, in the system, making choices, pushing the boundaries one way or the other to reflect the values that they care about and that we all care about.
Michael Heller argues that the rules of ownership, though they may seem strict, have a lot of choice built into them.
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