The Legacy of Mexican Land and Water in California

Gary D. Libecap (University of California - Santa Barbara and NBER)
Dean Lueck (Indiana University)
Julio Ramos (Indiana University)

Abstract: We use a natural experiment to examine the effects of land demarcation on farms’ values in nineteenth-century California. Land demarcation occurs in two dominant forms: metes and bounds (MB) and the rectangular system (RS). In MB, individuals specify land parcels. In RS, land is surveyed and demarcated prior to settlement and is organized in a uniform grid of square plots. We use farm-level data from the 1880 Agricultural Census for California to test predictions about farms’ shape and economic outcomes in nineteenth-century California. Our results indicate that MB farmers had more valuable, and productive farms, and spent a greater amount of money on wages.