Property Law for Development Policy and Institutional Theory: Problems of Structure, Choice, and Change

41 Pages Posted: 17 Jan 2006

See all articles by Errol Meidinger

Errol Meidinger

University at Buffalo Law School


This paper brings the institutional and ontological assumptions of development-by-incorporation theorists such Hernando De Soto into dialogue with modern property scholarship. The central argument of the incorporationists is that state-based legal systems should simply recognize and incorporate the informal property rights of urban squatters and rural villagers, thereby creating the necessary institutional conditions for successful economic development in those communities. While not directly addressing the consequentialist side of the argument, this paper argues that our knowledge of modern property systems poses several significant challenges to this prescription. The most significant of these are that modern property systems have often resisted incorporating informal property rights, and indeed often suppressed them, that they typically involve a great deal more indeterminacy than institutional theorists assume, that the very boundaries of modern property systems seem to be shifting beyond the nation state system, that incorporation decisions will necessarily involve significant normative choices, and that some traditional systems may simply be inconsistent with the institutional ontology of modern economic institutions.

Keywords: Custom, Deontology, Development, Economic Growth, Indigenous Rights, Informal Rights, Institutions, Legal Pluralism, Nongovernmental Organizations, Ontology, Property

Suggested Citation

Meidinger, Errol, Property Law for Development Policy and Institutional Theory: Problems of Structure, Choice, and Change. Buffalo Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2006-01, Available at SSRN: or

Errol Meidinger (Contact Author)

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