Lael Weis, ‘Resources and the Property Rights Curse’

This paper offers a critical appraisal of the growing body of philosophical work on questions of justice in the exploitation of natural resources. It argues that failure to treat property as a distinct set of considerations from those of distributive justice has led to an impoverished philosophical analysis. Moreover, it demonstrates how a property-based approach contributes to a more complete view of the interests at stake in resource exploitation by drawing attention to aspects of human relationships with the physical environment that cannot be captured through the allocation of wealth, such as environmental and cultural integrity. The reason that philosophers have not, by and large, appreciated this contribution rests on mistaken views about the function of property rules that could be rectified through legal understanding. In pursuing this line of argument, the paper considers a recent proposal that seems promising on this front: Leif Wenar’s analysis of the resource curse. Wenar’s proposal is unique in suggesting that questions of resource justice be analysed and resolved through settled principles of property law, rather than through a theory of distributive justice. However, he makes several key tactical errors. Examining where the proposal goes wrong and why provides important insights into the use of legal concepts to analyse intractable questions of justice in political philosophy, and into the place of property in particular – methodological issues that have not received adequate attention, despite the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of scholarship in this area.

Lael K Weis, Resources and the Property Rights Curse. Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence / Volume 28 / Issue 1 / January 2015, pp 209-236. DOI: Published online: 20 February 2015.

First posted 2015-03-05 08:36:38

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