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Large Scale Institutional Changes: Land Demarcation within the British Empire

By Gary D. Libecap, Dean Lueck and Trevor O‘grady


Abstract. We examine adoption of land demarcation within the British Empire during the 17 th through 19 th Centuries. We develop a model and test its implications against data from British temperate colonies in North America, Australia, and New Zealand. Three arrangements were implemented—individualized, idiosyncratic metes and bounds; centralized uniform, rectangular; and a centralized, non-uniform demarcation system. The choice among these is examined using demarcation, topographical, and soil quality datasets with qualitative, historical information. We find centralized systems provide coordination benefits, but adoption is less likely when implementation is slow and controlling settlement is costly. Within centralized systems, we find uniform rectangular demarcation lowers transaction costs, but its rigid structure is costly in rugged terrain and alternatives are adopted. JEL codes: Keywords

Year: 2011
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