Economics and similar, for the sleep-deprived

A subtle change has been made to the comments links, so they no longer pop up. Does this in any way help with the problem about comments not appearing on permalinked posts, readers?

Update: seemingly not

Update: Oh yeah!

Friday, May 09, 2008

Get Orff my Land

And a bit more on traditional leaders. The basic problem with land reform is that you start out thinking "it's no problem, we'll just divide the number of acres by the number of people and give everyone a little plot". This is the first step on a timeline of pain. Five minutes later you are realising that not all land is of equal quality and coming up with all sorts of complicated weighting schemes to try and maintain your original egalitarian plan, ten minutes after that you are realising that plots of land have to be in specific geographical locations and are poring over maps trying to create jigsaw-puzzle allocations that will preserve existing communities, and then fifteen minutes after that your office is full of quarrelsome peasants who believe themselves to have been ripped off, and this stage lasts for two hundred years. If you are the kind of person who can only go to sleep happy if you know that you've achieved something that day, land reform is not the career for you.

And so we get into the realm of Sir Humphrey's Solution (the one which exists for every problem, which is simple, obvious and wrong). Cian rather trailed this in comments to the place below; land reform is so bloody difficult that the temptation of any passing economist is just to adopt a Gordian approach and declare the land to be the personal property of the chiefs. This is the Highland Clearances solution. Another possibility is to appropriate land which was held on a traditional-communal basis to the central state, which then comes up with a plan for distributing the property rights either by auction or by some other means. Broadly, since the state generally has strong incentives not to simply underwrite the pre-existing traditional pattern of land use, this is the Trail of Tears solution.

You can proliferate these solutions, and you don't usually have to look around too far for a manmade disaster or democide to name each one after. As I've written on the blog before, every slum clearance has a whiff of the Cultural Revolution to it, but if you don't have slum clearances you are stuck with slums. There's an interesting question in moral philosophy here - what do you do about things like slum clearances and land property rights reforms in which it might be the case that the only way to achieve a state of affairs consistent with long term development is to trample the rights and in many cases the simple humanity of millions of people for several generations?

My answer, of course, as a good business school guy, is that in general when faced with a question like this, you wait and think, potentially for a very long time indeed. People like Stalin or Mao or MacLeod of MacLeod are always much too quick to assume that their great big plan for the improvement of mankind is the only option. But of course, waiting is not a great answer either in such a case, because rural Zambia is not in a state where it's acceptable to delay development, and the population is growing while the amount of land isn't. The current Zambian strategy (which is in the process of revision) has state land with private property tenure through long leases in the copper and farming areas, and traditional land with allocation by traditional leaders in the other 90% of the country; it doesn't work particularly well from a development perspective as 75% of Zambia's population are still on less than $1/day, but at least it doesn't appear to be on the path to civil war, which probably puts it in the top quartile of African land tenure systems.

[NOTE TO SELF: insert clear and sensible proposal for land tenure reform in here when written]
8 comments this item posted by the management 5/09/2008 01:30:00 AM

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