Study Questions on Property and the Environment


1.         What principle justifying ownership suggests that the U.S. should own the moon?

2.         John Locke argues that someone comes to own a previously unowned object by mixing her labor with it. Is this a good argument justifying ownership of previously unowned things?

3.         A Lockean restriction on the justifiability of owning land is that there must be as much and as good left for others after one has appropriated land. Why might this void land claims today?

4.         What is the “tragedy of the commons” and how does private ownership of what was once commons provide a solution to this tragedy? What is another solution?

5.         Why might some argue that making whales private property would protect them better than they are now protected?

6.         If because of the Endangered Species act one’ can’t cut trees on one’s property, does the government (i.e., the public) owe you compensation for the lost revenue? Why or why not?

7.         *What does the 5th amendment say about “taking” of private property? Does it allow it? Hint (here is the passage): “Nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

8.         *How does a “regulatory taking” (e.g., above endangered species case) differ from eminent domain taking (e.g., when government physically takes a citizen’s property to build a road through it).

9.         Under what conditions do all sides of the debate agree that the government may permissibly restrict what a landowner does on his/her property and not owe him/her any compensation for lost economic value? (Hint: Consider if the owner is considering using the land in a way that is a “public nuisance”– e.g., a pig farm or brothel in a residential area.)

10.       Describe the David Lucas case on the Isle of Palms. Do you think Lucas should have been compensated as a result of the regulation that affected his property? Why or why not?