The Limits of Property Reparations

19 Pages Posted: 20 Jan 2005

Date Written: May 7, 2003


Human history is replete with examples of unjustified expropriations of property by conquering states and other transitory regimes. Only in modern times, however, have nations attempted systematically to remedy historical injustices by providing reparations to the dispossessed owners or their successors. From the aboriginal peoples of the Antipodes to the Native Americans of Canada and the U.S. to the European victims of the German and Soviet communism, groups of people who were stripped of their land and possessions by fraud or force are demanding, and in many cases getting, reparations for these injustices. The thesis of this paper is that the case for reparations for such expropriations of property is highly tenuous, both morally and in practical terms. Reparations claims in general face two serious challenges: human irrationality and the effects of time. While these challenges are not necessarily insuperable, they are formidable.

Keywords: reparations, property, counterfactuals, time

JEL Classification: K11, P39

Suggested Citation

Alexander, Gregory S., The Limits of Property Reparations (May 7, 2003). Available at SSRN: or

Gregory S. Alexander (Contact Author)

Cornell Law School ( email )

Myron Taylor Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
United States
607-255-3504 (Phone)
607-255-7193 (Fax)

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