Property Rights to Land and Agricultural Organization: An Argentina–United States Comparison

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The contributions of Harold Demsetz offer key insights on how property rights and transaction costs shape economic organization. These guide our comparison of agricultural organization in the early 20th century in two comparable regions, the Argentine Pampas and the US Midwest. In the United States, land was distributed in small parcels and actively traded. In the Pampas, land was distributed in large plots, and trade was limited because land was a social and political asset, as well as a commercial one. We analyze why the absence of trade led to persistently larger farms, specialization in ranching, and peculiar tenancy contracts in Argentina relative to the United States. Our empirical analysis, based on county-level data for both regions, shows that geoclimatic factors cannot explain the observed differences in agricultural organization. We discuss implications for long-term economic development in Argentina.

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