Katrina Wyman, Problematic Private Property: The Case of New York Taxicab Medallions, 30 Yale J. on Reg. 125 (2013)

JREG-Cover-for-SiteYellow taxicabs are an iconic symbol of New York City. Almost as well known as the City’s yellow taxis are the valuable licenses that vehicles must have in order to be used as taxis. Often called medallions, these licenses constitute a form of private property. They are routinely bought and sold, leased, used as collateral for loans, and count as assets in bankruptcy. This Article emphasizes the political character of property rights in the modern state through a case study of why New York taxi medallions continue to exist.

Prominent explanations of the evolution of property rights imply that they are a distinct category of rights that emerge organically within society because their benefits exceed their costs. This Article takes a decidedly more regulatory view of property rights as top-down creations of the state. As instruments of the state, property rights arise and persist from political decision-making processes influenced by interest group pressures. This avowedly regulatory conception of property rights suggests that we likely have both efficient and inefficient property rights because there is no necessary correspondence between what is cost-beneficial for society as a whole and the outcomes of political decision-making processes. This Article argues that New York taxicab licenses are an instance of inefficient private property rights sustained by political decision-making processes subject to pressures from powerful interest groups.