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The Political Economy of Institutional Change: A Historical Perspective on Land Tenure in Western Europe

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Type: Working Paper
Author: Swinnen, Johan F. M.
Date: 2000
Series: Policy Research Group Working Paper, no. 20
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/4302
Sector: Land Tenure & Use
Region: Europe
Subject(s): land tenure and use--history
property rights--history
Abstract: "This paper addresses this question by analyzing the origins and causes of the differences and changes in land tenure institutions over more than a century in several Western European countries: France, Belgium the Netherlands, Ireland, and the United Kingdom (U.K.). "The analysis will show that differences and changes in land tenure are caused by a combination of economic, institutional, and political factors. First, the French Revolution had a major impact on eighteenth century feudal tenure systems and inheritance laws in France, Belgium and the Netherlands, causing major differences with the U.K.. Second, over time, changes in agricultural profitability affected land tenure in all countries because it affected tenants' capital constraints in purchasing land. Third, in all countries policy reforms increased small farmers property rights on land in the first part of the 20th century, either through three government regulations improving tenure security or through rising taxes on large landowners which led to land sales and increased small farmers' land ownership. Fourth, significant changes in taxes and tenure regulations only emerged after major political reforms which extended voting rights to tenants and small farmers and which resulted in a significant decrease in political influence of land owners. Fifth, initial conditions had a major impact on how political changes translated into tenure regulations and in the way tenants rights changed over time. Finally, excessive tenure security had perverse effects in some countries in the last part of the 20th century as it induced landowners to sell their land and as such reduced leasing despite improved tenure security."

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