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Large-Scale Institutional Changes: Land Demarcation in the British Empire


  • Gary D. Libecap
  • Dean Lueck
  • Trevor O'Grady


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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  • Gary D. Libecap & Dean Lueck & Trevor O'Grady, 2011. "Large-Scale Institutional Changes: Land Demarcation in the British Empire," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 54(S4), pages 295-327.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jlawec:doi:10.1086/662185

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Avinash Dixit, 2003. "Trade Expansion and Contract Enforcement," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 111(6), pages 1293-1317, December.
    2. Demsetz, Harold, 1988. "The Theory of the Firm Revisited," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 4(1), pages 141-161, Spring.
    3. Gary Richardson & Dan Bogart, 2008. "Institutional Adaptability and Economic Development: The Property Rights Revolution in Britain, 1700 to 1830," NBER Working Papers 13757, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Daron Acemoglu & Simon Johnson & James A. Robinson, 2001. "The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(5), pages 1369-1401, December.
    5. David Greasley & Les Oxley, 2009. "The pastoral boom, the rural land market, and long swings in New Zealand economic growth, 1873-1939 -super-1," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 62(2), pages 324-349, May.
    6. Dan Bogart & Gary Richardson, 2008. "Making Property Productive: Reorganizing Rights to Real and Equitable Estates in Britain, 1660 to 1830," NBER Working Papers 14107, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Cited by:

    1. Benito Arruñada, 2017. "How to Make Land Titling more Rational," Working Papers 983, Barcelona Graduate School of Economics.
    2. Cai,Yongyang & Selod,Harris & Steinbuks,Jevgenijs, 2015. "Urbanization and property rights," Policy Research Working Paper Series 7486, The World Bank.
    3. Gary D. Libecap & Dean Lueck, 2011. "The Demarcation of Land and the Role of Coordinating Property Institutions," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 119(3), pages 426-467.
    4. Bryan Leonard & Gary D. Libecap, 2016. "Collective Action by Contract: Prior Appropriation and the Development of Irrigation in the Western United States," NBER Working Papers 22185, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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