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Land Reforms and the Tragedy of Anticommons
Published: 02 November 2011 by MDPI in The 1st World Sustainability Forum session Governance & Sustainability
Abstract: Most of the land reforms of the recent decades have followed a theoretical basis, which might be described in brief by "formalization and capitalization" of individual land titles (de Soto 2000). This privatization agenda has been strongly supported for example by the World Bank, the IMF or by governmental development cooperation. It is supposed that formalization and individualization of property rights should help to enhance the efficiency of the land markets by awarding the fruits of improvements to those who bear the costs. However, there is an obvious gap between theory and practise: Within the privatization agenda, benefits of unimproved land (such as land rents and value capture) are reaped privately by well-organized actors, whereas the costs of valorization (e.g. infrastructure) or opportunity costs of land use changes are shifted onto poorly organized groups or society as a whole. Hence, the "capitalization" of land titles is connected with external costs. Consequences include rent seeking and land grabbing. Also, formalization of land titles is used as a means of land grabbing. In developing countries, formal law often transpires to work in favour of the winners of the titling process and is opposed by the customary rights of the losers. This causes a lack of general acknowledgement of formalized law (which is made responsible for deprivation of livelihoods of vulnerable groups) and often leads to a clash of formal and customary norms. Due to this clash of norms, many countries are falling into a state of de facto anarchy and a new form of "de facto open access". The consequence might be a "tragedy of anticommons" (Fitzpatrick 2006). Protection laws, e.g. for primary forests are no longer complied with; encroachment and destruction of natural resources is spreading. However, the real problem is not the formalization of land titles but the capitalization of the titles. A central counter-measure is to skim off land rent and incremental value as far as possible in favour of the community (decapitalization of land). This could be executed by an intelligently designed leasing or land taxation framework. Within such a decapitalization framework, the land use planning could be more neutral and independent than today. A neutral planning could provide space for a diversity and coexistence of lifestyles, legal and economic models. Good governance and the rule of law could be supported better than is the case at present. This holds true for natural protection laws in particular. Examples and evidence are provided particularly from Cambodia, which has many features in common with other countries in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa in this respect.
Keywords: Property rights, land reform, land grabbing, tragedy of anticommons