New York University Public Law and Legal Theory Working Papers

Document Type



Iowa Law Review, Vol. 100, 2015


The theme of this symposium is obviously inspired by Friedrich A. Hayek, a Nobel laureate in economics and one of the most eminent classic liberal thinker of all time. Hayek developed the term “spontaneous order” (probably coined by Michael Polanyi) into an elaborate theory, which he used to explain the social phenomenon of cooperation. The purpose of this theory was to demonstrate how a decentralized system, which relied on local and dispersed information held by a large number of different and unrelated players, could be brought together through the operation of the price mechanism. The genius of this system is that no person who participates in that system has to inquire into the private purposes of his trading partner. It is enough that he knows that the other side thinks that it is better off by the exchange. The system thus produces more reliable decisions at lower cost, from which Hayek deduced that this simple mechanism could outperform a centralized system, which was in vogue after the Second World War, when Hayek developed his theory. As private law scholars, we are interested in how private bargaining, contracting, and local custom shape the property regimes over different types of assets in various legal systems. It is for that reason that the articles in this symposium examines the different forms of property rights: those that are legal or customary, formal or informal, and de jure and de facto. It examines these various permutations in the context of the property rights regimes in the U.S., Europe, and East Asia.

Date of Authorship for this Version



spontaneous order, Hayek, property