18.7 C
New York
Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Buy now


Michael Lipton: Land Reform Big Man

IN area Crowds flocked to the magistrate’s door seeking redress at Rumpel’s courthouse. Much of the grievances in this northern part of Bangladesh are land-related. Almas, a farmer in his 60s, is clinging to his contract in a dispute dating back to the 1980s. He sold an inherited plot to a more powerful neighbor who he said never paid for it. Justice is slow, especially if you can’t influence corrupt judges. Concern wrinkled Almas’s face. He is struggling because he cannot afford other land.

Hear this story.
Enjoy more audio and podcasts iOS or android.

Your browser does not support

Michael Lipton, a British economist who died this month at the age of 86, should understand what is at stake in the Almas case. Much of his life’s work was devoted to creating laws and procedures to facilitate “agrarian reform.” The goal of these measures is to reduce poverty by increasing the proportion of arable land controlled by the poor. Most of Mr. Lipton’s fieldwork, and the greatest success of his method, has been in Asia.

His key insight is both simple and powerful. In poor countries, the people most in need are almost always in the countryside, and public policies are often underserved because of an “urban bias”. Meeting their needs through well-thought-out land reforms has reduced poverty and inequality more than anything else, including the “green revolution,” which added fertilizers and new crop varieties to boost yields. In most places, clear title to just a small plot of land is the best guarantee against poverty and possible progress. Over the past century, Mr Lipton wrote, “agrarian reform has played an enormously central role in the time course of rural and national poverty, progress, liberty, conflict and misery.”

Mr Lipton comes of age at a time when the fruits of radical land reform in East Asia are becoming evident. Before World War II, the region was ripe for change, with a large and growing rural population and a relatively small number of landowners who owned most of the arable land. As Joe Studwell explains in How Asia Works, demand for land is growing faster than supply. Instead of investing to improve yields, landowners rent out their land at ever-lower and lower rents. This is just one small step in acting as a moneylender to your tenants. What followed was a form of debt bondage. This was the situation in East Asia before the war. The same thing is happening today in parts of Pakistan and northern India.

After China’s victory in the civil war in 1949, Mao Zedong set out to redistribute land, starting with the massacre of millions of landlords. Under the tutelage of the United States, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan began a brutal redistribution. Marketing agencies and rural credit help small family farms thrive. In the decade after Japan’s reforms, agricultural output rose by half. In South Korea, rice production has doubled. Taiwan’s agricultural income has increased by as much as 150% in real terms.

These reforms were the basis of the East Asian economic miracle. Needing to import less food, these countries can retain scarce foreign exchange—indeed, high-end vegetables were an early export success. Farm entrepreneurship creates new needs and markets, such as light machinery. The countryside is a test bed for future exports – Japanese cars’ reputation for reliability is partly earned on rough country roads. In contrast, China’s land reforms reversed disastrously in the late 1950s as Mao Zedong agglomerated peasants into vast collectives. Only after the collective disbanded after Mao Zedong’s death in 1976 did China’s growth spurt begin.

Land reform also had political benefits. Inclusive rural growth in South Korea and Taiwan foreshadowed the inclusive politics of today’s impressive democracies.Countries half-hearted about land reform (Cambodia, Thailand and the Philippines, with vast manor) not only represent a huge loss of human welfare and potential. They also reflect the stagnation of political development. Mr Lipton referred to the “big shot” model of land ownership.In the Philippines, customer relations manor A patronage system that reflects national politics. The big man model is always associated with misfortune, turmoil or political conflict.

Mr Lipton estimates that at least 1.5 billion people now own some farmland as a result of land reform. Most of them are in Asia. But in some Asian countries, land reform has only just begun — notably in Myanmar, which is now wracked by civil conflict. Like Almas, many poor landowners in Asia lacked clear title to their land. Land reform in Asia has come a long way. It still has a ways to go.

Read more from our Asia columnist Banyan:
Narendra Modi is rewriting Indian history (April 13)
China’s Big Investments in Asia Fail to Buy Soft Power (April 5)
In Much of Asia, Race Is Too Hard to Talk About (March 30)

Plus: How the Banyan column got its name

Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Stay Connected

- Advertisement -spot_img

Latest Articles