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Owning History

Voluntary exchange implies mutual benefit – when people trade property rights, it's because they each believe that what they get from the trade will be more valuable to them than what they have to give up to get it. So if there are no obstacles to voluntary exchange, that is, if transaction costs are low, property rights will end up in the hands of the person who values them the most, a result economists call an efficient allocation of the rights. What happens when there are barriers that impede or prevent property rights from reaching their highest valuing owner through exchange? Can the law assign property rights to achieve efficient allocation in such cases? Should it try, or are there values other than efficient allocation the law might try to advance, along with or instead of efficient allocation, in assigning property rights?

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