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The Great Property Fallacy
Theory, Reality, and Growth in Developing Countries


  • Date Published: April 2018
  • availability: Available
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781108422833

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About the Authors
  • In this groundbreaking book, Frank K .Upham uses empirical analysis and economic theory to demonstrate how myths surrounding property law have blinded us to our own past and led us to demand that developing countries implement policies that are mistaken and impossible. Starting in the 16th century with the English enclosures and ending with the World Bank's recent attempt to reform Cambodian land law - while moving through 19th century America, postwar Japan, and contemporary China - Upham dismantles the virtually unchallenged assertion that growth cannot occur without stable legal property rights, and shows how rapid growth can come only through the destruction of pre-existing property structures and their replacement by more productive ones. He argues persuasively for the replacement of Western myths and theoretical simplifications with nuanced approaches to growth and development that are sensitive to complexity and difference and responsive to the political and social factors essential to successful broad-based development.

    • Reveals and explains the definitional misunderstandings between economists and lawyers in the nature and application of property rights
    • Proposes a new empirically based understanding of the role of legal property rights in economic growth
    • Offers a new perspective on the failure to transplant Western legal institutions successfully in poor countries
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Is it possible that the widely held belief in well-enforced property rights as essential for economic flourishing is not only unfounded but also potentially dangerous? Drawing on studies of five countries, Frank K. Upham mounts an impressive challenge against a seldom-questioned pillar of development theory. The Great Property Fallacy is a great read, and will cause many to rethink the relation between property law and development.' Mary Ann Glendon, Learned Hand Professor of Law, Harvard University, Massachusetts

    'In this unprecedented comparative and historical treatise, Frank K. Upham integrates case studies across time and space and provides a coherent, persuasive theory highlighting the destruction of property rights in rapidly changing societies. In a clear, concise manner, The Great Property Fallacy reveals the complexity and contingency of property rights and ushers in a new era of understanding property rights in development. It will serve as a foundational work for years to come.' Shitong Qiao, The University of Hong Kong

    'Frank K. Upham's book provides a critical, compelling evaluation of the conventional wisdom among many law-and-development scholars and aid-and-development agencies: namely, that formalization of private property rights, especially to land, enforced by a strong, competent, and politically independent judiciary, is an indispensable element in effective growth strategies for developing countries. Through highly illuminating case studies from both developed and developing countries (including China), Upham challenges this conventional wisdom by showing that property rights regimes are highly context-specific and idiosyncratic, and that no single model is a precondition for economic development.' Michael Trebilcock, University of Toronto

    'Frank Upham's book, written by a law professor and sometime World Bank consultant, is … a passionate, personal cri de coeur based on the author's own observations about the missteps committed by those who seek to advance economic development by advancing property rights.' José E. Alvarez, American Journal of International Law

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    Product details

    • Date Published: April 2018
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781108422833
    • length: 160 pages
    • dimensions: 242 x 170 x 15 mm
    • weight: 0.36kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Introduction
    2. Physics envy: property rights in development theory
    3. Property and markets: England and America
    4. Property and politics: Japan
    5. Law and development without the law part: China
    6. Theory in action: Cambodia
    7. Property rights and social change.

  • Author

    Frank K. Upham, New York University School of Law
    Frank K. Upham is the Wilf Family Professor of Property Law at New York University School of Law. He teaches Property, Law and Development and various courses on Japanese and Chinese law and society. His book, Law and Social Change in Postwar Japan (1987), won the Thomas J. Wilson Prize from Harvard University Press. In addition to having taught property law for over 30 years at several American law schools, he has taught in Argentina, China, Israel, Japan, and Taiwan. Upham has also worked as a World Bank consultant on the reform of property law in Southeast Asia.

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