A scandal currently receiving attention in Kabul involves government ministers being accused of building mansions on land given to them by the government. The land has existing primitive dwellings of poor people who have been living there in some cases for as long as decades. This is part of a larger pattern in Afghanistan of the more powerful using a weak legal system to take land from the poorer and the weaker.
Further heat was added to the issue by Miloon Kothari, an independent consultant who spent a fortnight travelling around Afghanistan to compile a report on land and housing issues for the UN's Human Rights Commission. He found widespread evidence that provincial warlords and government officials - exploiting the lack of a judiciary or land registries - are grabbing land illegally, forcing people to sell, and driving up property prices to levels well beyond the means of the poor by land speculation, sometimes to launder drugs money.
This is a very familiar story for those who have read Peruvian writer Hernando de Soto on the problem of legal systems in poor countries that effectively shut out a large fraction of the populace from access the means to register and protect property rights and contracts. He has a lot of good ideas on how to go about setting up a property rights system that is widely accessible. I read and liked his earlier book The Other Path (before it got the more contemporary subtitle "The Economic Answer To Terrorism") but haven't read his more recent The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else. Since Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan are not exactly Western culturally this title is a bit of a stretch. More generally he's probably attributing too much of the differences in economic outcome to his own hobbyhorse as experts in narrow specialties tend to do (Jared Diamond being another example of this phenomenon). But certainly a lack of broad public access to a general property rights enforcement system is going to hold back economic growth.
|Share |||By Randall Parker at 2003 September 21 10:27 PM Chaotic Regions|