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The Cost of Property Rights: Establishing Institutions on the Philippine Frontier Under American Rule, 1898-1918


  • Lakshmi Iyer

    () (Harvard Business School, Business, Government and the International Economy Unit)

  • Noel Maurer

    () (Harvard Business School, Business, Government and the International Economy Unit)


We examine three reforms to property rights introduced by the United States in the Philippines in the early 20th century: the redistribution of large estates to their tenants, the creation of a system of secure land titles, and a homestead program to encourage cultivation of public lands. During the first phase of American occupation (1898-1918), we find that the implementation of these reforms was very slow. As a consequence, tenure insecurity increased over this period, and the distribution of farm sizes remained extremely unequal. We identify two primary causes for the slow progress of reform. The first was the high cost of implementing these programs, together with political constraints which prevented the government from subsidizing land reforms to a greater degree. The second was the reluctance of the government to evict delinquent or informal cultivators, especially on public lands, which reduced the costs of tenure insecurity.

Suggested Citation

  • Lakshmi Iyer & Noel Maurer, 2008. "The Cost of Property Rights: Establishing Institutions on the Philippine Frontier Under American Rule, 1898-1918," Harvard Business School Working Papers 09-023, Harvard Business School, revised Apr 2009.
  • Handle: RePEc:hbs:wpaper:09-023

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Denis Cogneau & Léa Rouanet, 2009. "Living Conditions in Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and Western Africa 1925-1985: What Do Survey Data on Height Stature Tell Us?," Working Papers DT/2009/12, DIAL (Développement, Institutions et Mondialisation).
    2. Ali, Daniel Ayalew & Deininger, Klaus & Goldstein, Markus, 2014. "Environmental and gender impacts of land tenure regularization in Africa: Pilot evidence from Rwanda," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 110(C), pages 262-275.
    3. Prince Christian Cruz, 2014. "The Spanish Origins of Extractive Institutions in the Philippines," Australian Economic History Review, Economic History Society of Australia and New Zealand, vol. 54(1), pages 62-82, March.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • N45 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation - - - Asia including Middle East
    • N55 - Economic History - - Agriculture, Natural Resources, Environment and Extractive Industries - - - Asia including Middle East
    • P14 - Economic Systems - - Capitalist Systems - - - Property Rights
    • P16 - Economic Systems - - Capitalist Systems - - - Political Economy of Capitalism
    • Q15 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Land Ownership and Tenure; Land Reform; Land Use; Irrigation; Agriculture and Environment

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