'Revenge of the Commons: Property, Debt and Collateral in the Evolution of African Financial Capitalism'
Professor Keith Breckenridge (WiSER, Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research)
This paper examines the history and economics of property forms on the African continent, and, especially, the long term effects of the colonial state's endorsement of informal communal land allocations at the start of the 20th century. Much of the work associated with the registration of land on the African continent has been motivated by a critique of the political project associated with Hernando de Soto's Mystery of Capital. This has led many scholars to emphasize the political dangers of formal titling and to downplay the economic and institutional effects of off-register land (and other asset) allocations - perhaps the most important of which is that, as Malikane has pointed out, African firms cannot raise formal capital. The paper shows that another - less visible - effect of the absence of paper-based forms of collateral on the frican continent has been the widespread turn to automated systems of high-interest, unsecured individualised debts.
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