A bundle of bundles of rights – international treaties regarding migration in the light of the theory of property rights

by Stefan Schlegel

Working Papers WP 18-06
October 2018
ISSN 2192-2357 (MMG Working Papers Print)

Full text: pdf


A growing literature discusses the access of migrants to property rights over assets as a requirement for the protection of their human rights and basic interests. Little attention, however, has been paid to the fact that the right to decide to migrate to a given place is itself a property right. This paper aims to close this gap by describing international treaties regarding migration as mechanisms to transfer bundles of these property rights. This approach allows for the comparison of the distributional effects of different treaties regarding migration. It also allows to demonstrate that such treaties often do not limit themselves to transactions of property rights among states but are capable of transacting property rights from states to individuals. A property rights approach highlights that the exclusion of potential immigrants from would-be receiving countries means to impose a – sometimes negative – external effect on them and their country of origin. A review of different types of treaties highlights the tendency in all of them to internalize such external effects. The paper thus predicts that the prevention of migration will get more expensive as the external effects of this activity will have to be internalized to a growing degree.


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