“Rules of Ownership” Spur Lively #MACoCon Book Club Discussion

MACo’s recurring good government book club participants discussed “Mine!” – a book discussing complexities in the notion of ownership in law and society.

At the MACo Winter Conference, county officials and other guests join a discussion on a book affecting public service and best practices as officials, employees, and colleagues. The selection for December was Mine!: How the Hidden Rules of Ownership Control Our Lives by Michael Heller and James Salzman.

From the synopsis on the reader-driven website Good Reads:

A hidden set of rules governs who owns what–explaining everything from whether you can recline your airplane seat to why HBO lets you borrow a password illegally–and in this lively and entertaining guide, two acclaimed law professors reveal how things become mine.

Mine is one of the first words babies learn. By the time we grow up, the idea of ownership seems natural, whether buying a cup of coffee or a house. But who controls the space behind your airplane seat: you reclining or the squished laptop user behind? Why is plagiarism wrong, but it’s okay to knock-off a recipe or a dress design? And after a snowstorm, why does a chair in the street hold your parking space in Chicago, but in New York you lose the space and the chair?

Mine! explains these puzzles and many more. Surprisingly, there are just six simple stories that everyone uses to claim everything. Owners choose the story that steers us to do what they want. But we can always pick a different story. This is true not just for airplane seats, but also for battles over digital privacy, climate change, and wealth inequality. As Michael Heller and James Salzman show–in the spirited style of Freakonomics, Nudge, and Predictably Irrational–ownership is always up for grabs.

With stories that are eye-opening, mind-bending, and sometimes infuriating, Mine! reveals the rules of ownership that secretly control our lives.

Read more on Goodreads.

The group discussed cross-generational rules for ownership of intellectual property… with the provocative example of the works of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a centerpiece. Who owns those works, and is society better if the answer is a foundation or estate, rather than “the people” themselves?

Reclining airline seats, commercial fishing limitations, “saved” parking spaces, and numerous other intriguing examples punctuated a lively discussion… that, as always, could have easily carried for an extra hour.

MACo, as ever, is grateful for J.P. Morgan for their sponsorship of the event.


More about MACo’s Winter Conference:


Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties