Autocracy and Redistribution: The Politics of Land Reform

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Autocracy and Redistribution: The Politics of Land Reform
By Michael Albertus
Cambridge University Press, 2015
366 pp.
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In this masterful contribution to economic history and political theory, Albertus resurrects the often overlooked role of land reform as a major driver of modernization. In Latin America alone, Albertus calculates, 128 million hectares of land were expropriated and redistributed from 1930 to 2008. He carefully distinguishes between three types of land reform: radical redistribution without compensation; land negotiation with market-based compensation; and colonization, whereby state lands are transferred to settlers. Drawing on a large database of comparative cases and well-focused country studies (mostly, but not exclusively, from Latin America), Albertus concludes that radical redistribution—his main interest—is most likely to occur when divisions exist between national elites and few institutional constraints prevent the adoption of the policy. Albertus also contends that land reforms that permanently redistribute assets can be more effective than progressive taxes in correcting inequalities in wealth and power. One surprising finding of his challenges much of the established literature on this subject: radical land reform is more likely in an autocracy, where power is concentrated, than in a democracy, where vested interests enjoy many channels through which they can stymie reform.

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