New Article: Shelley Cavalieri, Back to the Basics: Lessons from U.S. Property Law for Land Reform, Denver Law Review, Vol. 95:1, 2017. Abstract below:
Redistributive land reform programs are a central development approach in nations of the global south. For proponents of land reform, land redistribution is an obvious strategy, designed to reduce hunger and poverty, to bolster citizens’ ability to support themselves and their families, and to shape the future of burgeoning democracies worldwide. But for land reform skeptics and opponents, land reform is something of a puzzle. While states routinely redistribute money, the choice to distribute land seems somewhat peculiar. On its face, it is not obvious why land is worthy of a separate, strange approach, when this is not how nations consider the allocation of many other crucial non-monetary resources. To invest money in reducing the concentration of land by purchasing from some in order to give or sell land to others seems far more complex than simply redistributing financial resources. Yet those who think about property know that land is different—land is unique and culturally important. It therefore warrants specific consideration as nations contemplate how to create the good society.
Essential theoretical insights about property should form the foundation of land reform efforts, but these too often go unstated, leaving land reform efforts’ theoretical underpinnings unexplored. This Article serves to fill this gap, grounding market-compatible land reform in property’s animating principles. The Article considers five different sources of lessons that property theorists can teach those implementing land reform. First, it observes that land is unique and therefore worthy of special treatment as a social good due to its rivalrous and nonfungible character. Second, it argues that land reform must recognize the shifting nature of land as a contextual, contingent resource that bears separate meanings in different communities, social classes, and nations. Third, it recognizes that land reformers must understand the role of land in constituting individual identity and personhood. Fourth, the Article examines the historical role of land in constructing social status and creating wealth. Fifth, the Article considers how land constitutes citizenship, both by shaping the individual and the relationship of the individual to the nation. The Article then makes two key arguments about how these lessons are useful in the context of land reform. First, the Article argues that these property lessons can explain why redistributive land reform matters. Second, the Article leverages these property lessons to make land reform more effective. The Article concludes by observing that these lessons about land will fundamentally alter the way land reform is undertaken, contributing essential knowledge to those eager to enact redistributive land reform initiatives.