Saturday, November 10, 2012

Call for Papers: Triangulating Property Rights: Governing Access to Essential Goods

The Center on Global Legal Transformation at Columbia University has issued a call for papers directed at junior researchers for a conference on "Triangulating Property Rights: Governing Access to Essential Goods," to take place June 20-21, 2013, in New York City. Here's the call:

Triangulating Property Rights: Governing Access to Essential Goods

Call for Governance Proposals

The Center on Global Legal Transformation at Columbia University in New York is launching a call for proposals by junior researchers on governing scarce, yet essential goods. Selected proposals shall be presented at panel sessions at a conference held in New York on 20-21 June 2013. The research project is coordinated by Prof. Katharina Pistor, the Director of the Center on Global Legal Transformation, and Prof. Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food.

A number of factors have led to dramatically increased pressure on land and the essential resources it harbors: population growth and a corresponding rise in demand for agricultural and other commodities; competing uses of land between different forms of agriculture, resource extraction, large-scale industrial projects and urban sprawl; environmental degradation from climate change and unsustainable practices; and trade and investment liberalization, among others. As a result, water, food and shelter are increasingly considered scarce and subjected to commercial pressures that make them inaccessible to many.

Private property rights regimes have traditionally been considered the most effective institutional arrangement to allocate scarce goods and combat what has been termed the “tragedy of the commons” – the depletion of scarce common resources by actors who disregard the carrying capacity of the land and bear no costs for their actions. Individual property rights regimes lead to allocation of land to the highest bidder, who is presumed to put the land to its most efficient use. But conversion to private property regimes has also resulted in widespread displacement of small holders and indigenous people and the exclusion of many others from access to resources essential to their livelihoods.

Two well-studied alternatives to private property rights are collective governance by local authorities and centralized control. However, neither fully addresses the problems of scarce, essential goods. Collective governance is limited by a community’s ability to manage collective action problems, but the governance issues we are facing are those of a heterogeneous world with high social mobility and rapidly changing social norms. Similarly, centralized control depends on the authority and wisdom of the central decision-maker, who may lack local knowledge and accountability. Political voice might address problems of accountability, but how to organize voice in a global world remains an open question.

Proposals should suggest models for governing essential, scarce resources. They can be qualitative or quantitative; make use of empirical data and field research or suggest a new theoretical approach. They should address if and how the following three normative goals (the basis of the triangle to which the title refers) for managing scarce, essential goods can be realized:

• equity (universal access to those resources that are essential for human life);

• efficiency (in managing scarce essential goods and minimizing waste); and

• sustainability (arrangements that do not unduly interfere with future productivity or availability of essentials).

Memos should be between 5 and 10 single spaced pages and must be submitted by email to the project coordinator, Claire Debucquois, at by 15 January, 2013. Any questions should be directed to the same address. Up to 10 submissions will be selected for presentation at the conference and possible inclusion in a subsequent book publication.