How can we explain the emergence of property rights from their absence, in the face of incentives to overuse open-access resources and obstacles to collective agreement on property systems? Blackstone said “necessity begat property,” and Bentham said “property and law were born together,” but neither explained the process of conception, gestation, and delivery. Modern economists have sought to identify the institutional mechanisms enabling the birth of property. This essay examines five potential answers to the puzzle of what begat property and the further questions they entail.

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