April 14, 2008

Empowering the Poor Through Property Rights

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As a member of the Working Group on Property Rights of the U.N. Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor, chaired by Madeleine Albright and Hernando de Soto, Enterprise Africa! lead researcher Karol Boudreaux contributed to the second chapter of Making the Law Work for Everyone Volume II, titled, “Empowering the Poor through Property Rights.”

Authored by all the members of the Working Group on Property Rights, the chapter highlights that the relevance of fair access to property rights goes far beyond their role as economic assets. Secure and accessible property rights provide a sense of identity, dignity, and belonging to people of very different economic means. They create reliable ties of rights and obligations among community members as well as a system of mutual recognition of rights and responsibilities beyond the local community. For many poor individuals and the communities in which they live, the relationship with property is more than just an aggregate of occupied and used plots. It is the very expression of a way of life, and one that they should have the opportunity to improve by virtue of their own efforts.

Legal empowerment of the poor through property rights requires sustained efforts. Property systems that exclude large segments of the global population from property rights have to be discontinued and the zone of legitimate land tenure must be expanded through improved access and security. Developing country governments must enter into a compact with their own citizens and with the international community to support this reform. Today, the key challenge is to consolidate thinking and draw good practice from effective interventions to date to improve pro-poor outcomes, develop effective land management institutions, establish clear rules for the management of public land, and strengthen the institutional framework and mechanisms for land transfer and access. Property rights are too central to human dignity and prosperity for current thinking and practice to continue. Only with empowerment through property rights can global poverty and inequality be reduced. Reflecting the contributions of its varied authors, the chapter covers the gambit of property rights issues relating to development:

  • Property rights as human rights
  • The roles of property in society
  • Dysfuntionalities in property markets
  • Property rights and legal empowerment
  • Reform strategies

Read the full volume here.