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Our Common Wealth by Peter Barnes, Jonathan Rowe

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8Common Property

Property is a mirror; the way we think about it says a lot about the way we think about ourselves. And the way Americans thought about property for much of our history is very different from what most politicians and economists profess today.

In England before America was formed, commoners had rights that were like property rights, even if they weren’t called that. Much agricultural land was held in common. In practice this was similar to community gardens today: individuals had their own plots, but the underlying ownership was joint. Pastures for grazing animals were also shared. And no one could keep commoners out of woods and rivers that were open to all. These rights dated back to the Magna Carta, and often before.

The English ...

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