Determinants of Property Rights Institutions: Survey of Literature and New Evidence

ECONOMICS OF GOVERNANCE 14.2 (2013): 127-183

Abstract: Why do some countries have better institutions than others? More specifically, what accounts for variation in the quality of property rights institutions in different countries? In this paper, the author empirically assesses four different theories relating to the determinants of property rights institutions: (1) the economic approach, which maintains that property rights institutions are created when the benefits of their creation exceed their costs; (2) the cultural approach, which stipulates that institutional variation reflects the differences in the beliefs of political leaders about what institutions create benefits for society; (3) the historical approach, which contends that cross-country differences in property rights institutions are the by-product of historical accidents; and (4) the political approach, which defends the premise that institutions are voluntarily chosen by the individuals who control political power, and these individuals choose institutions with the objective to maximize their personal payoffs rather than the benefits of the society as a whole. In order to test the veracity of these theories, the author undertakes a cross-sectional analysis of 142 countries (including 116 developing and 26 developed countries) over the period 1970–2005. The results of this analysis provide several interesting insights. Firstly, they indicate that the political approach appears to be the most relevant explanation for cross-country variation in property rights institutions: not only is this approach the most statistically robust, it also provides the best fit with the property rights index. The results of non-nested hypothesis test à la Davidson and MacKinnon (1981) confirm this analysis. Secondly, regardless of econometric specification and country sample, democracy is positively and significantly linked to property rights institutions. Thirdly, the data also reveal that while legal origin does significantly affect property rights institutions in developing countries, it appears to have no effect in developed countries. Fourthly, the analysis demonstrates that, in contrast to the full sample case, an increase in GDP per capita does not significantly contribute to the improvement in the quality of property rights institutions in Africa.