Restoring the Commons: Toward a New Interpretation of Locke’s Theory of Property

Rebecca P. Judge


John Locke’s theory of property, described in his Second Treatise on Civil Government, exerts a strong but often unacknowledged influence on environmental economics, providing justification for many of our discipline’s norms and practices. This paper examines how Locke’s Enlightenment-era thesis has informed our understanding of the relation of the individual and the state to environmental amenities. While Locke has been used to justify a libertarian view that treats any form of environmental regulation as a “taking,” elements of Locke’s original argument can be understood to subject individual rights claims to constraints requiring intra- and intergenerational sufficiency and sustainability. (JEL K11, Q2)

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