The privatisation of communal lands in spain (1750-1925): an econometric revision of the Neo-Malthusian thesis
The main aim of this paper is to check one of the few existing theories regarding the factors that can explain the historical dissolution of collective rustic property, namely the Neo-Malthusian thesis which underlies the so-called “tragedy of the commons”. This old interpretative proposal, originating in the field of Biology, but rapidly adopted by Economy, not only continues to be explicitly present in some manuals of natural resources management, but also persists in those works that, from Economic and Social History, attempt to understand the reasons of the decline of communal systems in the Western world. Leaving aside the revision that, in the last decades, New Institutional Economy has advanced in this respect through the “property rights theory”, which is difficult to contrast, my paper tries to test the applicability of the Neo-Malthusian schema with the help of elementary econometric methods. The testing ground chosen for this purpose is the process of disintegration of communal lands which took place in Spain since the middle of the 18th century and, especially, the process of privatisation promoted by the Law of General Disentitlement of 1 May 1855. In no way does this analysis attempt to create a refined econometric model with which to explain the changes in collective patrimony during the last centuries. The inclusion in the test of other factors, different from the ones emphasised in the “tragedy of the commons”, suggests and advances some possible approaches to assemble an alternative theoretical schema, but does not endeavour to offer a global mechanical explanation.
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