Rev Austrian Econ (2006) 19: 47–68
Disagreement over the emergence of private property
rights: alternative meanings, alternative explanations
Scott A. Beaulier · David L. Prychitko
Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2006
Abstract This paper is an exercise in the history of thought, which compares Austrian and
neoclassical theories of the emergence of private property rights, and examines, in part,
the extent to which Austrians can be said to offer a commonly-agreed upon explanation
that parallels Carl Menger’s exemplary story of the emergence of money. We address the
sources of disagreement (and apparent conﬂict) among emergence theorists in both schools.
We try to show that some of the disagreement hinges on an unclear meaning of the term
“emergence,” which is resolvable, while other sources of disagreement are fundamental at
the methodological level.
Keywords Property rights
JEL Code B25, E40, E53
Sometimes disagreement among economists is only apparent. Other times it’s downright
fundamental. What are we to make of the following claims regarding the emergence of
private property rights?
Political economy starts with the fact of private property, but it does not explain it to us.
Karl Marx (1964 : 106)
S. A. Beaulier (
Assistant Professor of Economics, Stetson School of Business and Economics, Mercer University
D. L. Prychitko
Professor, Department of Economics, Northern Michigan University and Faculty Afﬁliate, Program on
Markets and Institutions, James M. Buchanan Center for Political Economy, George Mason University