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McGill University Faculty of Law




In recent years, common ownership has enjoyed unprecedented favour among policy-makers and citizens in the United States, Canada, and Europe. Conservation land trusts, affordable-housing co-operatives, community gardens, and neighborhood-managed parks are spreading throughout major cities. Normatively, these common-ownership regimes are seen as yielding a variety of benefits, such as a communitarian ethos in the efficient use of scarce resources, or greater freedom to interact and create in new ways. The design of common-ownership regimes, however, requires difficult trade-offs. Most importantly, successful achievement of the goals of common-ownership regimes requires the limitation of individual co-owners’ ability to freely use the common resource, as well as to exit the common-ownership arrangement. This article makes two contributions. First, at the normative level, it argues that common ownership has the potential to help foster greater “equality of autonomy”. By ““equality of autonomy”, I mean more equitable access to the material and relational means that allow individuals to be autonomous. Second, at the level of design, this article argues that the difficult trade-offs of common-ownership regimes should be dealt with by grounding the commitment to equality of autonomy in the context of specific resources. In some cases, this resource-specific design helps to minimize or avoid difficult trade-offs. In hard cases, where trade-offs cannot be avoided, this article offers arguments for privileging greater equality of autonomy over full negative freedom.

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