Do you really own your smartphone? Michael Heller and James Salzman claim that we are hardwired to bring our physical notions of static ownership to our real and virtual lives. In reality, our increasingly online world involves licensing access to a series of ones and zeros. Our “own” data isn’t even “ours”.

In this episode, EconTalk host Russ Roberts engages the authors of Mine! How the Hidden Rules of Ownership Control Our Lives, in a discussion about their taxonomy of the six characteristics of ownership that may challenge how we think about the topic. The authors propose ownership as a choice, not a given, that law isn’t always the answer to our different claims, and that a common language of ownership might enhance our ability to understand and address ownership debates. Please tell us how this conversation prompts your own thoughts about ownership. 



1- Elinor Olstrom identified and described the “closed community with reciprocity of sanction”. Salzman uses the South Boston parking space story of an identifying object (parking chairs) as an example and blames its disintegration on gentrification.  Could this norm be degrading for other reasons? Explain. 


2- The authors suggest that all of the stories people use to claim every resource in the world are captured in the six categories of: Attachment, First-in-Time, Possession, Labor, Self-ownership, and Family changes. Can you identify an example of each story in your life? What ownership debates or clashing stories have you experienced?


3- According to Heller and Salzman, the history of American westward expansion went from foraging to “No Trespassing”. How did the invention of barbed wire in the 1860s change the nature of property ownership to the attachment version that is familiar today?


4- How do the tragedy of the commons, fugitive resources, unitization, and the transaction cost of monitoring explain the way that we have engineered ownership in the U.S.?


5- How does Roberts’ point about reciprocal harm clarify the Coasean approach to property rights disputes? Why is the Coase theorem allegedly misconstrued?