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Journal of Public and International Affairs , Volume 14/Spring 2003 Copyright © 2003, the Trustees of Princeton University http://www.princeton.edu/~jpia 11 P ROPERTY M ATTERS : S YNERGIES AND S ILENCES B ETWEEN L AND R EFORM R ESEARCH & D EVELOPMENT P OLICY Saskia Tait Saskia Tait is a Master of Arts candidate at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University ( saskiatait@sympatico.ca ). Land market reform is re-emerging as one of the most important instruments of development policy to address rural poverty, inequality, conflict and insecurity. Its effectiveness, however, is a subject of intense scrutiny and debate within academic and policy circles. This article examines the largely neglected work of critical scholars and researchers who challenge many of the underlying assumptions that legitimate market- based land reform. The article argues that the negligible impact that critical research has had on the basic policy orientations and imperatives of major international organizations and donor agencies is primarily a reflection of powerful neo-liberal political and economic ideologies, and their associated institutional arrangements and biases. Policy makers and institutions that ignore or marginalize findings that land privatization frequently impedes rather than enhances land tenure security, food security, inequality and conflict, may be sponsoring development programs that have negative impacts on the poorest and most vulnerable among rural populations.
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1 A stylized fact, and confirmed by a large literature, is that owner operated smallholder farms are desirable from both an equity and an efficiency perspective. Secure individual property rights to land would therefore not only increase the beneficiaries’ incentives and provide collateral for further investment but, if all markets were competitive, would automatically lead to socially and economically desirable land market transactions (Deininger and Binswanger 1999, 249). The World Bank researchers that authored this statement have used a very subtle, albeit common, means of substantiating their argument. Before making any assertions, they lay the ground with a supposed “fact” that is ostensibly “confirmed” by a large (although notably unspecified) literature. Having firmly established the validity of their position before even advancing it, the claims that follow can easily be taken to be unquestionably “true.” Indeed, the causal lines of reasoning and implicit definitions embedded in this analysis seem eminently rational and uncomplicated: clearly, one might think, equity and efficiency are desirable, and if lack of security regarding land tenure owing to the absence of private property prevents these outcomes, then appropriate interventions are supportable and even necessary. This analysis, however, runs counter to a voluminous literature that points to
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