The Right to Destroy

April, 2004

This paper responds to Sax, McCaffery, and the various judicial anti-destruction rulings by presenting a qualified defense of the owner’s right to destroy valuable resources. On my account, empowering owners to destroy their property can promote important expressive interests, spur creative activity, and enhance social welfare. Moreover, a relatively laissez faire attitude toward property destruction avoids the enormous transactions costs that would be incurred in a Saxist world. That is not to say that the right to destroy should be absolute. Indeed, my paper identifies a few contexts and considerations, ignored by scholars and courts, in which restrictions on the destruction of property are highly desirable. The ambition of this paper, then, is to consider more broadly two questions: (1) What interests are furthered by permitting an owner to destroy his property? and (2) When should those interests give way to societal concerns about wasted resources and negative externalities?

Download the Working Paper