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Barbed Wire: Property Rights and Agricultural Development

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  • Richard Hornbeck

Abstract

This paper examines the impact on agricultural development of the introduction of barbed wire fencing to the American Plains in the late nineteenth century. Without a fence, farmers risked uncompensated damage by others' livestock. From 1880 to 1900, the introduction and near-universal adoption of barbed wire greatly reduced the cost of fences, relative to the predominant wooden fences, especially in counties with the least woodland. Over that period, counties with the least woodland experienced substantial relative increases in settlement, land improvement, land values, and the productivity and production share of crops most in need of protection. This increase in agricultural development appears partly to reflect farmers' increased ability to protect their land from encroachment. States' inability to protect this full bundle of property rights on the frontier, beyond providing formal land titles, might have otherwise restricted agricultural development.

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  • Richard Hornbeck, 2010. "Barbed Wire: Property Rights and Agricultural Development," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 125(2), pages 767-810.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:qjecon:v:125:y:2010:i:2:p:767-810.
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    File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1162/qjec.2010.125.2.767
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Olmstead, Alan L. & Rhode, Paul W., 2002. "The Red Queen and the Hard Reds: Productivity Growth in American Wheat, 1800–1940," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 62(04), pages 929-966, December.
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    4. Erica Field, 2007. "Entitled to Work: Urban Property Rights and Labor Supply in Peru," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 122(4), pages 1561-1602.
    5. Brasselle, Anne-Sophie & Gaspart, Frederic & Platteau, Jean-Philippe, 2002. "Land tenure security and investment incentives: puzzling evidence from Burkina Faso," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 67(2), pages 373-418, April.
    6. Ashton, T. S., 1997. "The Industrial Revolution 1760-1830," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780192892898.
    7. Alston, Lee J & Libecap, Gary D & Schneider, Robert, 1996. "The Determinants and Impact of Property Rights: Land Titles on the Brazilian Frontier," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 12(1), pages 25-61, April.
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