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If, as Hume argues, property is a self-referring custom of a group of people, then property rights depend on how that group forms and orders itself. In this article we investigate how people construct a convention for property in an experiment in which groups of self-selected individuals can migrate between three geographically separate regions. To test a hypothesis of Demsetz's, we vary across two treatments the external benefits of migrating. We find that self-selection has a powerful effect on establishing conventions of property and begetting increases in wealth through exchange and specialization. We also find support for the Demsetz hypothesis.


This article was originally published in Southern Economic Journal, volume 79, issue 4, in 2013. DOI: 10.4284/0038-4038-2011.249

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University of North Carolina



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