Category Archives: Australia

“If they couldn’t guarantee the property rights of the land they gave away, how could they possibly sell it?”. Land Privatization and Property Rights in the Nineteenth Century Neo-Europes

The Political Economy of Land Privatization in Argentina and Australia, 1810-1850: A Puzzle

Alan Dye (, Barnard College, Columbia University

Sumner La Croix (, University of Hawai’i-Mānoa


Abstract: This paper compares public land privatization in New South Wales and the Province of Buenos Aires,in the early nineteenth century. Both claimed frontier lands as public lands for raising revenue. New South Wales failed to enforce its claim. Property rights originated as de facto squatters’ claims, which government subsequently accommodated and enforced as de jure property rights. In Buenos Aires, by contrast, original transfers of public lands were specified de jure by government. The paper develops a model that explains these differences as a consequence of violence and the relative cost of enforcement of government claims to public land.

Review by Manuel Bautista Gonzalez

The U.S. economy has racked up an enviable record of two centuries of sustained economic growth —an achievement, it has often been asserted, that was predicated on the establishment of institutions guaranteeing the security of property rights. My aim in this article has been to qualify this assertion by reminding scholars that economic development also requires that societies be able flexibly to reallocate property rights in response to new technological and other developments. If such reallocations could always occur smoothly—either through market transactions or a consensus effort on the part of society to capture the resulting gains in efficiency—there would be nothing mysterious about this qualification. As I have shown, however, reallocations in the United States have often been involuntary, and losers have not always received adequate (or any) compensation. Owners whose property has been taken from them have routinely charged that property rights are in fact not secure, but aside from some relatively brief episodes when broader protest movements have taken up their cause, these kinds of complaints have never become general. Hence the mystery. Despite the many involuntary reallocations of property that have occurred repeatedly since the formation of the republic, Americans still strongly believe that their property rights are secure and they act in their economic lives accordingly. – Lamoreaux (2011), emphasis added.

This paper was first distributed by NEP-HIS on 2012-05-15. The paper reviewed in this post was a more recent version from January 4, 2013, made available by the authors.

Alan Dye

Alan Dye

Sumner La Croix

Sumner La Croix

Dye and La Croix’s paper is an illuminating exploration of the history of land property rights in the province of Buenos Aires (Argentina) and the colony of New South Wales (Australia) in the first half of the nineteenth century. Whereas Australian squatters acquired de facto claims over lands outside the official settlement areas defined by colonial authorities and some of them managed to transform their claims into de jure property rights, porteño landholders often relied on the will of the authorities of the nascent republic to enforce de jure property rights, with mixed results. Why did authorities honor or not existing claims over land when governments stood to lose revenues from their sale or lease?

In their answer, the authors refute the presentist bias of popular institutionalist and factor-endowment accounts: contrary to the belief, developed countries have not always had a better record of securing and enforcing property rights over land than developing countries. Why?

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