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Conceptualizing CapitalismInstitutions, Evolution, Future$
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Geoffrey M. Hodgson

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780226168005

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226168142.001.0001

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Property, Possession, and Contract

Property, Possession, and Contract

(p.101) Chapter Four Property, Possession, and Contract
Conceptualizing Capitalism

Geoffrey M. Hodgson

University of Chicago Press

This chapter draws on legal theorists and others to argue that there is a difference between property and possession. Possession means control of a resource. Property involves rights that are legitimated by a powerful public authority, typically involving law and the state. Property involves a number of different rights, and crucially it can be used as collateral, to borrow money. Many social scientists treat property principally as a relation between an individual and a good, thus downplaying the institution of property, social relations between individuals, and between individuals and the state. In particular, “property rights economics” encompasses neither property nor rights, in the senses established in law. Consequently, contractual exchanges are more than acts of reciprocation: they are mutually agreed legal obligations, often involving the transfer of property rights. Nevertheless, all contracts involve cultural and other non-legal supports, and much human interaction in modern society is without recourse to law. Taking a historical turn, the chapter then argues that it is a mistake to assume that the establishment of “secure property rights” marks the rise of capitalism in England. These rights emerged much earlier.

Keywords:   property, possession, property rights, collateral, property rights, economics, contracts, exchange, legal impermeability, emergence

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