The importance of secure property rights can hardly be overstated. Without them, people will not create or improve the assets, physical and intellectual, that are essential for economic progress. De Soto (2000) builds the argument and marshals the evidence in a thorough and compelling book. Security of rights improves the incentives to save and invest. Land and capital can be rented out to others if they can use it more efficiently, so inefficient internal uses are avoided. And the assets can be used as collateral to borrow and expand one’s business. Field (2006) has taken the case even further. Security of property rights not only increases the supply of capital and efficiency in its allocation; it also increases labor supply. When titles to land and capital are official and secure, people need not spend time and effort to guard their rights, so they can put the labor and time to productive uses. Field’s empirical research on the titling program in Peru finds large and significant effects: “For the average squatter household, property titles are associated with a 14% increase in household work hours, a 28% decrease in the probability of working inside the home, and a 7.5% reduction in the probability of child labor among single-parent households. Panel estimates … support the cross-section results: between 1997 and 2000 household labor supply increased an additional 13 hours per week for squatters in neighborhoods reached by the program.”
In the Indian context, security of land titles may be the most important issue of property rights. The controversy regarding land sales in the context of the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) is a case in point. The merits of the SEZ policy can and should be debated, but if the debaters raise fears of revocation of rights and benefits that have been granted through a proper policy process, this uncertainty will deter investors and merely ensure that the potential benefits will not materialize. At a more micro level, insecurity of land rights and fragmentation of land arising from disputes in extended families constitute serious constraints on agricultural growth.
The relevance of security of contracts may not seem so obvious, but it is equally important. In most economic transactions that can create economic gains for all parties, some or all of them can gain an extra private benefit while hurting the others, by violating the terms of their explicit or implicit agreement. The fear of such exploitation by the other party may deter each from entering into the agreement in the first place. This was brilliantly illustrated by Diego Gambetta in his ethnographic sociological study of the Sicilian Mafia (1993, p. 15). In the course of his interviews, a cattle breeder told him: “When the butcher comes to buy an animal, he knows that I want to cheat him [by supplying a low-quality animal]. But I know that he wants to cheat me [by reneging on payment]. Thus we need … Peppe [the Mafioso] to make us agree. And we both pay Peppe a commission.” By providing a mechanism of contract enforcement, Peppe makes it possible for the two to enter into a mutually beneficial transaction. And he does this with a profit motive, exactly as would any businessperson providing any service for which others are willing to pay.
This example also demonstrates something else that is an important theme for me: governance does not have to be provided by the government as a part of its public services; private parties may do so with other motives. In most countries, even advanced ones, we find a mixture of the formal legal system and a rich and complex array of informal social institutions of governance. These mixtures reflect the country’s level of economic development, and in turn help determine its economic prospects.
The issue is not the old-style one of “market versus government.” Rather, it is one of how different kinds of institutions (governmental and non-governmental, formal and informal, industry-based or community based, singly or in combination) provide the support that is required for successful economic activity (exchange, production, asset accumulation, innovation, and so on), and the activity may or may not take place in conventional markets. I cannot emphasize too strongly the need to get beyond the old sterile debates and on to issues that really matter.
- Write the summary of the article.
- What is the meaning of the three sentences that have been italicized and given in bold?