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The Demarcation of Land and the Role of Coordinating Institutions

  • Gary D. Libecap
  • Dean Lueck

This paper examines the origins and economic effects of the two dominant land demarcation systems: metes and bounds (MB) and the rectangular system (RS). Under MB property is demarcated by its perimeter as indicated by natural features and human structures and linked to surveys within local political jurisdictions. Under RS land demarcation is governed by a common grid with uniform square shapes, sizes, alignment, and geographically-based addresses. In the U.S. MB largely is used in the original 13 states, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The RS is found elsewhere under the Land Ordinance of 1785 that divided federal lands into square-mile sections. We develop an economic framework for examining land demarcation systems and draw predictions. Our empirical analysis focuses on a 39-county area of Ohio where both MB and RS were used in adjacent areas as a result of exogenous historical factors. The results indicate that topography influences parcel shape and size under a MB system; that parcel shapes are aligned under the RS; and that the RS is associated with higher land values, more roads, more land transactions, and fewer legal disputes than MB, all else equal. The comparative limitations of MB appear to have had negative long-term effects on land values and economic activity in the sample area.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w14942.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 14942.

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Date of creation: May 2009
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Publication status: published as The Demarcation of Land and the Role of Coordinating Institutions with Dean Lueck, June 2011, Journal of Political Economy
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:14942
Note: DAE EEE ITI LS
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  1. Edward L. Glaeser & Rafael La Porta & Florencio Lopez-de-Silane & Andrei Shleifer, 2004. "Do Institutions Cause Growth?," NBER Working Papers 10568, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Libecap, Gary D., 2007. "The Assignment of Property Rights on the Western Frontier: Lessons for Contemporary Environmental and Resource Policy," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 67(02), pages 257-291, June.
  3. Daron Acemoglu & Simon Johnson, 2005. "Unbundling Institutions," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 113(5), pages 949-995, October.
  4. Wiggins, Steven N & Libecap, Gary D, 1985. "Oil Field Unitization: Contractual Failure in the Presence of Imperfect Information," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(3), pages 368-85, June.
  5. Thomas J. Holmes & Sanghoon Lee, 2009. "Economies of Density versus Natural Advantage: Crop Choice on the Back Forty," NBER Working Papers 14704, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Rafael La Porta & Florencio Lopez-deSilanes & Andrei Shleifer & Robert W. Vishny, 1999. "Investor Protection and Corporate Valuation," NBER Working Papers 7403, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Paul Klemperer & Joseph Farrell, 2006. "Coordination and Lock-In: Competition with Switching Costs and Network Effects," Economics Series Working Papers 2006-W07, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  8. Clay, Karen & Wright, Gavin, 2005. "Order without law? Property rights during the California gold rush," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 42(2), pages 155-183, April.
  9. Nancy T. Gallini, 2002. "The Economics of Patents: Lessons from Recent U.S. Patent Reform," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 16(2), pages 131-154, Spring.
  10. Thomas J. Holmes & Sanghoon Lee, 2010. "Cities as Six-by-Six-Mile Squares: Zipf's Law?," NBER Chapters, in: Agglomeration Economics, pages 105-131 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Galenson, David W. & Pope, Clayne L., 1989. "Economic and Geographic Mobility on the Farming Frontier: Evidence from Appanoose County, Iowa, 1850–1870," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 49(03), pages 635-655, September.
  12. Lueck, Dean, 1995. "The Rule of First Possession and the Design of the Law," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 38(2), pages 393-436, October.
  13. Stephen Knack & Philip Keefer, 1995. "Institutions And Economic Performance: Cross-Country Tests Using Alternative Institutional Measures," Economics and Politics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 7(3), pages 207-227, November.
  14. Barzel, Yoram, 1982. "Measurement Cost and the Organization of Markets," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 25(1), pages 27-48, April.
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