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Barbed Wire: Property Rights and Agricultural Development

  • Richard Hornbeck

    (Harvard University and National Bureau of Economic Research.)

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. (c) 2010 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology..

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File URL: http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1162/qjec.2010.125.2.767
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Article provided by MIT Press in its journal Quarterly Journal of Economics.

Volume (Year): 125 (2010)
Issue (Month): 2 (May)
Pages: 767-810

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Handle: RePEc:tpr:qjecon:v:125:y:2010:i:2:p:767-810
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  1. Gary D. Libecap, 2006. "The Assignment of Property Rights on the Western Frontier: Lessons for Contemporary Environmental and Resource Policy," NBER Working Papers 12598, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Alan L. Olmstead & Paul W. Rhode, 2002. "The Red Queen and the Hard Reds: Productivity Growth in American Wheat, 1800-1940," NBER Working Papers 8863, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Ashton, T. S., 1997. "The Industrial Revolution 1760-1830," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780192892898, March.
  4. Lee J. Alston & Gary D. Libecap & Robert Schneider, 1996. "The Determinants and Impact of Property Rights: Land Titles on the Brazilian Frontier," NBER Working Papers 5405, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  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.
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