Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Land Reform

Quite often you'll hear economists throw the phrase 'land reform' around. It's a neutral-sounding rather ambiguous term, and it's generally lumped in with a bunch of other reforms that not-so-developed countries should be doing.

They don't spend a lot of time on it, however, because unlike plenty of other recommended reforms it's the hard one. Most of the time land reform means taking land from massive hereditary land owners and handing the title over to either residential squatters or tenant farmers. This isn't simply about redistribution -- it's about providing clear title to the people who occupy and use the land anyway, which will provide them with assets they can use to obtain credit, etc... Sounds radical, but one way or another it happened throughout Europe during the past century and they seem to be doing okay. For obvious reasons, it's the reform that never seems to happen.

But, it's good news that Hugo Chavez of Venezuela seems to be carrying out some reforms.

Perhaps most important, tens of thousands of people like Lopez have been given title to land that their families have been squatting on for generations, both in poor urban slums like this one and in vast rural tracts. Using new government credits, poor families are planting crops, organizing businesses, fixing up their homes and redesigning their neighborhoods.

For the record, I'm no real fan of Chavez. The largely dishonest propaganda campaign against him has been rather sickening, but there are very good reasons to be wary of him. Still, this is a good step.