International Development Planning Review

On the mystery of capital and the myths of Hernando de Soto: What difference does legal title make?

International Development Planning Review (2002), 24, (1), 1–19.

Abstract

Hernando de Soto's new bestseller, The Mystery of Capital, attributes the failure of capitalism in the Third World to the lack of property titles. Many governments around the world are following this advice and are busy distributing legal titles to self-help families. Using data gathered in the now legalised self-help settlements of Bogotá , the paper questions a number of the alleged benefits of legalisation. It shows how sales are more common when people lack legal title, how informal finance is available at the commencement of an illegal settlement and how little formal finance is forthcoming after legalisation. Most importantly, it shows that there is little sign of a secondary housing market. And, if there is little possibility of selling a house, home ownership in the self-help suburbs can offer little in the way of capital accumulation. It is hard to make money from a house that cannot be sold. Perhaps, de Soto's argument is less a panacea than a populist dream.

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Gilbert, Alan