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Abstract

The core thesis is that Western neoclassical economics and law (particularly Anglo-American) have a peculiar cultural history that biases Western-trained economists and lawyers against common property systems like those found among Africans and American Indians. This Western cultural bias is expressed through the recurrent focus on individuals as atomistic and independent of each other in contract and property law, as well as in economic theory. The bias derives in part from the historical suppression of community property rights that once overlapped individual property rights, as in the case of the enclosure of the commons in England. Well-meaning Western advisors may depart for foreign communities that possess common property systems and year after year, decade after decade, century after century, propose the replacement of existing legal and economic ideas and institutions with Western imports-not realizing the limited utility and contested history, even in the West, of these imported forms. While many of these issues are not new, the oldness of these debates becomes an issue in itself. How does one break the repetitive cycle, the cultural reproduction of bias, by provoking self-assessment?

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