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date: 29 March 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines what environmental history reveals about the meanings of property and its limitations. More specifically, it looks at private property primarily as it has developed in the West, particularly in the United States. It begins with an analysis of the environmental meanings of property and the limited conventional understandings of property, citing the tendency of theorists such as Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman to equate private property with real estate. It then shows how property and markets in it have sometimes undermined individual freedom and how the workings of nature often subvert, erase, and confuse property lines and the very idea of ownership. It also considers the improvement doctrine and offers examples of private property mobilizing nature. Finally, the chapter explores the persistence of public lands and the public domain in America, along with the emergence of new forms of common property in air and water, and argues that private property continues to develop only in a context of common property.

Keywords: environmental history, private property, United States, Friedrich Hayek, real estate, nature, ownership, improvement doctrine, public lands, public domain

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