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Journal Article

BARBED WIRE: PROPERTY RIGHTS AND AGRICULTURAL DEVELOPMENT

Richard Hornbeck
The Quarterly Journal of Economics
Vol. 125, No. 2 (May 2010), pp. 767-810
Published by: Oxford University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27867495
Page Count: 44
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BARBED WIRE: PROPERTY RIGHTS AND AGRICULTURAL DEVELOPMENT
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Abstract

This paper examines the impact on agricultural development of the introduction of barbed wire fencing to the American Plains in the late nineteenth century. Without a fence, farmers risked uncompensated damage by others' livestock. From 1880 to 1900, the introduction and near-universal adoption of barbed wire greatly reduced the cost of fences, relative to the predominant wooden fences, especially in counties with the least woodland. Over that period, counties with the least woodland experienced substantial relative increases in settlement, land improvement, land values, and the productivity and production share of crops most in need of protection. This increase in agricultural development appears partly to reflect farmers' increased ability to protect their land from encroachment. States' inability to protect this full bundle of property rights on the frontier, beyond providing formal land titles, might have otherwise restricted agricultural development.

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