• A Critique of 'Tangibility' as the Basis for Property Rules

      Ayres, Ian; Goldbart, Paul (2001-03-09)
      Kaplow and Shavell have recently claimed that property rules tend to protect tangible entitlements more efficiently than do liability rules. They argue that while liability rules tend to efficiently harness the defendant’s private information when courts are imperfectly informed as to litigants’ valuations of intangible entitlements, this harnessing effect does not apply to tangible entitlements for two reasons. First, they argue that the prospect of multiple takings (by others or even the original entitlement holder taking back the entitlement) makes it impossible to implement liability rules with regard to tangible entitlements. Second, they argue that liability rules cannot harness private information when the disputants’ valuations are correlated and that valuations of tangibles tend to be more correlated than valuations of intangibles. In this essay, we reject both the multiple-takings and the correlated-value claims. Our thesis is that, while both present real problems of implementation, the authors’ own harnessing result can be extended to redeem the usefulness of liability rules even when values are correlated and even when there is the prospect of multiple takings. We will show that, even in the presence of these problems, enlightened courts can manipulate the damages that takers expect to pay so as to induce efficient takings. The authors’ numeric examples purporting to show the dominance of property rules systematically understate the potential efficiency of liability rules. Their examples compare the more efficient property rules to liability rules that use inefficient damages and systematically delegate allocative authority to the less efficient litigant. If the more appropriate comparisons are made, in all of Kaplow and Shavell’s examples liability rules (which anticipate non-consensual takings) dominate property rules.
    • Optimal Delegation and Decoupling in the Design of Liability Rules

      Ayres, Ian; Goldbart, Paul (2001-03-09)
      The central allocative decision confronting a judge in a nuisance dispute should not concern the identity of the initial entitlement recipient but rather the identity of the more efficient chooser—the litigant who can more efficiently allocate the entitlement. We show that liability rules can produce four basic allocations which differ centrally in the ways in which courts delegate to litigants the authority to ultimately allocate the entitlement. Two classes concern "single chooser" rules that vest (in the absence of an agreement to the contrary) the allocative decision solely in one of the litigants. The other two classes concern a new type of rule, "dual chooser" rules, that allow either party to veto the transfer of an entitlement. Dualchooser rules are more than a theoretical curiosity both because they exist in our current law and because at times they produce systematically greater allocative efficiency than either type of single-chooser rule. Two heads are sometimes better than one. A central result of the paper is that in choosing among different liability rules allocative concerns can be decoupled from distributive concerns. There exist an infinite number of liability rules which produce each of the four basic allocations, but every rule within a particular class divides differently between the litigants the expected value of the allocation. To successfully decouple, courts should at times impose "call option," "put option," "Pay or be Paid," and "Pay or Pay" rules.