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What Have Americans Paid (and Maybe the Rest of the World) for Not Having a Public Property Rights Infrastructure?

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The U.S., unlike most developed countries, does not have a public federal or state property rights infrastructure. In a paper written in 2002 titled "What Do Americans Pay for Not Having a Public Land Registration System?" Bengt Kjellson estimated the costs of this weakness in the U.S. economy at $20 billion annually (Kjellson 2002). In the new context of the mortgage crisis in the U.S. and the economic crisis it has triggered worldwide, we can reformulate the question this way: "What have Americans (and maybe the rest of the world) paid for not having a public property rights infrastructure?" In effect, we believe that a good property rights infrastructure could have mitigated the effect of the land market crisis and thereby avoided the loss of many hundreds or even thousands of billion dollars. This paper indicates that the lack of a sound property rights infrastructure in the U.S. has contributed to the collapse of its land market. Of course, this is not the only cause of the mortgage crisis. The negligence of the government to control the banking system and the fact that banks have been too loose in their loan controls is obvious. But in crisis times, good, reliable, and accessible information available on time is of critical importance. When this information is missing or hard to obtain without any guarantee of reliability, the crisis will act as a storm traveling over warm waters to become a hurricane. This is precisely what happened last year in the U.S. In his Inaugural Address, U.S. President Barack Obama said, "Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America" (Obama 2009). So, why not remake America and its land market on more sustainable basis?


Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: September 1, 2009

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  • Surveying and Land Information Science (SaLIS) is the official publication of the American Association of Geodetic Surveying (AAGS) and the Geographic and Land Information Society (GLIS).

    SaLIS is a scientific journal devoted to reporting research and new work conducted to advance geodetic surveying, land surveying, large-scale mapping, and geographic information systems designed to advance the development and management of the cadastral parcel data layer and other land information applications. SaLIS publishes research articles, technical papers, technical notes, papers on the current state of surveying education, surveying history, book reviews, and current literature reviews. Every four years, the journal publishes the U.S. Report to the International Federation of Surveyors (FIG). The Proceedings of the Surveying Teachers Conference are published bi-annually.

    For information about AAGS visit
    For information about GLIS visit

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