Large-Scale Institutional Changes: Land Demarcation in the British Empire
We examine adoption of land demarcation in the British Empire during the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries. We develop a model and test its implications against data from temperate British colonies in North America, Australia, and New Zealand. Three arrangements were implemented: individualized, idiosyncratic metes and bounds; a centralized, uniform rectangular system; and a centralized, nonuniform demarcation system. The choice of arrangement is determined using demarcation, topographical, and soil quality data sets with qualitative, historical information. We find that centralized systems provide coordination benefits, but adoption is less likely when implementation is slow and controlling settlement is costly. In centralized systems, we find that uniform rectangular demarcation lowers transaction costs, but its rigid structure is costly in rugged terrain, and alternatives are adopted.
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