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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 paper 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. We find that the absence of property rights clearly decreases wealth in our environment and that interest in establishing property rights is a key determinant of the decision to migrate to a new region. Theft is nearly eliminated among migrants, resulting in strong growth, and non-migrants remain in poverty. Thus, self-selection, through the decision to migrate, to form more cooperative groups is essential for establishing property rights.


Working Paper 09-02



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