Dessalegn Rahmato on de Soto (Property Law)

A previous post covered the main arguments of Dessalegn Rahmato's "The Peasant and the State: Studies in Agrarian Change in Ethiopia, 1950s-2000s" (2008), this highlights some interesting critiques ofDe Soto's influential book and argument:

"To begin with, by over-emphasizing the determinant role of property law and its legalization de Soto adopts a state-centric view of property rights and its guarantee for the poor. But, as we shall see later, formalization of the law by itself provides no robust guarantee, and where such guarantee has been achieved it has been the result of struggles of the poor themselves and non-state agents. Moreover, formal property law, he argues, and the conversion process in the law allows the poor to convert the assets into capital. Under capitalism, he states, the legal infrastructure is hidden in the property system, and the formal property system converts assets into value (pp. 45-46). But de Soto fails to recognize that the formal property system of capitalist societies is a product of a long historical process and the outcome of competing (often warring) economic interests, social classes, political parties or section groupings. Hidden in the formal property law of a capitalist country is a small slice of its social history. Where this kind of pluralist struggle is absent or weakly manifested, as is the case in many developing countries, property law comes to reflect the interests of one dominate group, or, as in Ethiopia, that of the state and its mandarins. Here property law is not inclusive but restrictive, prohibiting disadvantaged populations the freedom and opportunity to get the full value of their assets." (p. 187)

Dessalegn continues for another two pages, on the arguments made by de Soto, for those interested.

The Peasant and the State
From Bullets to the Ballot Box

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