Michael Heller on the Gridlock Economy
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: What is a gridlock economy?
Michael Heller: When too many people on pieces of one thing, nobody can use it. Usually, private ownership creates wealth, but too much ownership has the opposite effect. It creates gridlock. That’s a free market paradox I discovered and it’s the core of this book of “The Gridlock Economy.”
Question: When did you first notice the gridlock trend?
Heller: I first started thinking about the gridlock economy when I was stuck in an airport wondering why is it that everybody spends weeks of their lives sitting in airports and stuck on planes and I started thinking about gridlock when I was traveling overseas and people in other countries have cell phones that they can watch TV on and you can’t do it in this country. I have friends who are scientists who had [promising] lines of research that they simply couldn’t pursue and said, well, we’ll just abandon this. And why did you do that? And I’ve realized that all of those kinds of everyday experiences that I kept having, sitting in airports, having my cellphone drop calls, having scientists lose, you know, lose the ability to do their work. Now, all those problems were really the same problem, they were examples of an ownership structure, way we organize the stuff around us that doesn’t really work that I’m calling gridlock.
According to Michael Heller, when too many people own pieces of one thing, nobody can use it.
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