Institutions and Economic Development: Lessons from Haiti’s Economic History

Craig Palsson (Naval Postgraduate School)

Abstract: This dissertation gleans lessons on institutions and economic development by looking at Haiti's historical experience. Chapter 1. Many developing countries are stuck in small, low-productivity farms. Such countries also have poor property rights institutions, which create transaction costs towards reallocating land to large farms. I look at how transaction costs from historical property rights institutions affected the agricultural structure of Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Using a simple model and new data on land adoption in Haiti from 1928 to 1950, I find transaction costs prevented farmers from starting large farms. The results imply that development policy might require violating property rights to achieve the optimal agricultural distribution Chapter 2. Many developing countries have not established secure property rights despite the benefits found in the literature. In this paper, I examine whether the beneficiaries of property rights reforms support the reforming party. I test this hypothesis using Haiti’s 2014 cattle registration program, which increased property rights over some livestock but not others. In the 2015 election, districts with more beneficiaries voted more for the incumbent party. The results suggest countries with weak property rights sacrifice not only economic benefits, but political gains as well. Chapter 3. The final chapter examines the roll state capacity plays in respecting property rights.