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San Diego Law Review

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San Diego L. Rev.





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In this Article, I defend the view that natural resources originally belong to individuals who have legitimately established private property claims over them. Natural resources do not belong to a collective entity such as the people or the state. My argument is simple. Relying on the Lockean contractarian tradition, I argue that individuals must delegate any resource controlled by the state. This is because all powers of the state are, morally, delegated powers. A group's claims over natural resources is entirely derivative of the original claims of its members. Only individuals can originally appropriate natural resources; only they have the right to use or sell them, to the state or others.

I proceed as follows. First, I discuss the international law rule according to which peoples or states have permanent sovereignty over natural resources. Second, I attempt to clarify what are natural resources and who is the rightholder. Third, I present my argument for rejecting the above-mentioned rule: for moral and empirical reasons, title on natural resources should be vested in individuals, not in peoples or states. I conclude with a discussion of common ownership, the view that global natural resources are owned, not by states or individuals, but by humanity as a whole. I indicate the reasons why that position should be rejected as well.


© 2015 Fernando R. Tesón


First published in San Diego Law Review.

Faculty Biography