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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: August 2009

3 - The Natural State Applied: English Land Law



The logic of the natural state draws attention to the way the dominant coalition manipulates the economy to provide incentives for powerful individuals not to use violence. Land is the primary asset in agrarian societies. Access, use, and the ability to derive income from land therefore provide a rich set of tools with which to structure a dominant coalition and its relationship to the wider economy. As De Soto (1989, 2000) and the larger development literature emphasize, establishing well-defined and easily transferrable property rights to land remains a significant problem in many parts of the world today.

If access to land plays a role in balancing interests within a dominant coalition, then there are implications for the clarity of property rights with respect to land in developing societies. Clear property rights make land more valuable, but they may also reduce the ability to use land as a tool to structure elite relationships in natural states. As a result, elites have conflicting interests in making land rights more secure. In fragile natural states, the flexible redistribution of landownership and control can serve as a tool to balance interests within the coalition, especially as the balance of power shifts among prominent members. In basic natural states, landownership typically stabilizes, but control of land remains within the direct framework of the state.