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De Facto and De Jure Property Rights: Land Settlement and Land Conflict on the Australian, Brazilian and U.S. Frontiers

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  • Lee J. Alston
  • Edwyna Harris
  • Bernardo Mueller

Abstract

We present a conceptual framework to better understand the interaction between settlement and the emergence of de facto property rights on frontiers prior to governments establishing and enforcing de jure property rights. In this framework, potential rents associated with more exclusivity drives "demand" for commons arrangements but demand is not a sufficient explanation; norms and politics matter. At some point enhanced scarcity will drive demand for more exclusivity beyond which can be sustained with commons arrangements. Claimants will therefore petition government for de jure property rights to their claims - formal titles. Land conflict will be minimal when governments supply property rights to first possessors. But, governments may not allocate de jure rights to these claimants because they face differing political constituencies. Moreover, governments may assign de jure rights but be unwilling to enforce the right. This generates potential or actual conflict over land depending on the violence potentials of de facto and de jure claimants. We examine land settlement and conflict on the frontiers of Australia, the U.S. and Brazil. We are interested in examining the emergence, sustainability, and collapse of commons arrangements in specific historical contexts. Our analysis indicates the emergence of de facto property rights arrangements will be relatively peaceful where claimants have reasons to organize collectively (Australia and the U.S.). The settlement process will be more prone to conflict when fewer collective activities are required. Consequently, claimants resort to periodic violent self-enforcement or third party enforcement (Brazil). In all three cases the movement from de facto to de jure property rights led to potential or actual conflict because of insufficient government enforcement.

Suggested Citation

  • Lee J. Alston & Edwyna Harris & Bernardo Mueller, 2009. "De Facto and De Jure Property Rights: Land Settlement and Land Conflict on the Australian, Brazilian and U.S. Frontiers," NBER Working Papers 15264, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15264
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    Cited by:

    1. Edwyna Harris, 2011. "The Impact of Institutional Path Dependence on Water Market Efficiency in Victoria, Australia," Water Resources Management: An International Journal, Published for the European Water Resources Association (EWRA), Springer;European Water Resources Association (EWRA), vol. 25(15), pages 4069-4080, December.
    2. Lawson-Remer, Terra, 2011. "Security of Property Rights for Whom?," WIDER Working Paper Series 083, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    3. Lee J. Alston & Bernardo Mueller, 2010. "Property Rights, Land Conflict and Tenancy in Brazil," NBER Working Papers 15771, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Alan Dye & Sumner La Croix, 2012. "The Political Economy of Land Privatization in Argentina and Australia, 1810-1850," Working Papers 201207, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Department of Economics.
    5. Castañeda Dower, Paul & Pfutze, Tobias, 2013. "Specificity of control: The case of Mexico's ejido reform," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 91(C), pages 13-33.
    6. Gerard Russo & Jaclyn R.K. Lindo & Sang-Hyop Lee & Rui Wang & Thamana Lekprichakul & Abdul Jabbar, 2012. "The Impact of State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) Expansion on Health Insurance Coverage in Hawaii," Working Papers 201208, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Department of Economics.
    7. Jacek Lewkowicz & Katarzyna Metelska-Szaniawska, 2016. "De jure and de facto institutions – disentangling the interrelationships," Working Papers 2016-29, Faculty of Economic Sciences, University of Warsaw.
    8. Lawson-Remer Terra, 2013. "Property Insecurity and Conflict," Journal of Globalization and Development, De Gruyter, vol. 4(1), pages 131-160, August.
    9. Edwyna Harris, 2011. "Does franchise extension reduce short-run economic growth? Evidence from New South Wales, 1862-1882," Monash Economics Working Papers 19-11, Monash University, Department of Economics.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D72 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior
    • Q15 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Land Ownership and Tenure; Land Reform; Land Use; Irrigation; Agriculture and Environment
    • N40 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation - - - General, International, or Comparative
    • N50 - Economic History - - Agriculture, Natural Resources, Environment and Extractive Industries - - - General, International, or Comparative
    • O17 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Formal and Informal Sectors; Shadow Economy; Institutional Arrangements
    • K11 - Law and Economics - - Basic Areas of Law - - - Property Law

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