Why local context matters : property rights and debt trading in colonial South Africa

Swanepoel, C. ; Fourie, J. (2018)

CITATION: Swanepoel, C. & Fourie, J. 2018. Why local context matters : property rights and debt trading in colonial South Africa. Journal for Studies in Economics and Econometrics, 42(2):35-60.

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Article

For economic transactions, including debt transactions, to occur in a market system, property rights are essential. The literature has focussed on finding empirical proof of the effect of property right regimes, noting differences between de jure and de facto property rights. We use a novel combination of data on wealth and demographics to investigate the effects of property right regimes on economic outcomes at the individual level. At the Cape, de jure property rights between freehold and loan farms differed. Historians, however, suggest that de facto property rights between these two property types were the same. We exploit the random variation of the birth order, specifically being the eldest son, to estimate whether the type of farm and therefore the type of property rights, mattered for economic activity, in our case, debt transactions. Our results suggest that historians were correct: loan farms were as secure in their de facto property rights, despite differences in de jure property rights. Our results confirm that the local context in which property right regimes are embedded is at least as important as the property right regime itself.

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