De jure property rights and state capacity: evidence from land specification in the Boer Republics

We examine the development of de jure property rights to land by assessing how accurately governments recorded borders of property. We use surveys of farm parcels from two historical states, the Republic of the Orange Free State (OFS) and the South African Republic (ZAR), which are in modern-day South Africa, and employ a descriptive analysis to infer how accurately maps represent parcels of property. We argue that differences in state administrative capacity explains differences in map accuracy and therefore the provision of de jure property rights to land. We find that maps of farms in the ZAR, which had lower administrative capacity, tend to be less accurate than maps of farms in the OFS. Comparisons with military maps compiled under a different administration provide evidence that the costs incurred from previous administrations can limit future attempts to accurately record property. The analysis shows how state administrative capacity can facilitate (or hinder) the provision of property rights to land.

Kara Dimitruk, Sophia du Plessis, Stan du Plessis
Journal of Institutional Economics