The impact of property rights and its limits

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The empirical evaluation of the effect of land property rights typically suffers from selection problems. The allocation of property rights across households is usually not random but based on wealth, family characteristics, political clientelism, or other mechanisms built on differences between the groups that acquire property rights and the groups that do not. In this paper, we address this selection concern exploiting a natural experiment in the allocation of property rights. Twenty years ago, a homogenous group of squatters occupied a piece of privately owned land in a suburban area of Buenos Aires, Argentina. When the Congress passed an expropriation law transferring the land from the former owners to the squatters, some of the former owners surrendered the land (and received a compensation), while others decide to sue in the slow Argentine courts. These different decisions by the former owners generated an allocation of property rights that is exogenous to the characteristics of the squatters. We take advantage of this natural experiment to evaluate the effect of the allocation of urban land property rights. Our preliminary results show significant effects on housing investment, household size, and school attrition. Contradicting De Soto's hypotheses, we found nonsignificant effects on labor income and access to credit markets.

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