The Invisible Line: Land Reform, Land Tenure Security and Land Registration.

Author:Blocher, Joseph
Position::Book Review

The Invisible Line: Land Reform, Land Tenure Security and Land Registration, by Henri A.L. Dekker Publisher: Ashgate Publishing (2003) Price: $89.95

Land makes up three quarters of the wealth of most developing nations and plays crucial social, customary, and religious roles. Land reform is thus a major focus of economic development and human rights programs. Recent popular works by writers such as Hernando de Soto extol the virtues and apparent benefits of increased land tenure security and suggest that the Third World can expect explosive economic growth if property rights can be established, formalized, and protected.

The focus on formal property rights as an antecedent to economic growth is not a recent development. In the past fifty years, citizens of developing countries have been subjected to a flurry of land tenure reform projects, most of them involving Western-style title registration. Though some of these programs have apparently helped spark economic growth--Gershon Feder's oft-cited study of Thailand is perhaps the best-known example--many more have been disappointing at best, and counterproductive at worst. To help explain these successes and failures, economic and legal theorists have put forth a number of competing theories for why land rights--"invisible," socially-constructed lines--evolve in the first place, and why their existence can and should contribute to economic growth and social stability.

Henri A.L. Dekker's The Invisible Line, a broad study of land policy and theory, is a welcome addition to this critical debate. Though its breadth and analysis make it valuable to anyone interested in property, it should be of particular, interest to development theorists, as it provides a comprehensive, thought-provoking, and practical introduction to property and development generally. Land policy makers around the world would be well-served by using it as a reference.

Dekker conceives of land rights as "invisible lines" that exist independent of topographical features. After briefly surveying the very visible issues of poverty, hunger, and distribution that inevitably accompany discussions of property, Dekker devotes the bulk of his important work to a wide-ranging but well-grounded exploration of property, ownership, and the relationships between land, state, and society.

The Invisible Line charts a long-overdue course between arguments favoring formal land registration and proponents of local, customary control. Dekker...

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