Public Choice

, Volume 162, Issue 3–4, pp 287–305 | Cite as

Anarchy, self-governance, and legal titling

  • Ilia MurtazashviliEmail author
  • Jennifer Murtazashvili


Scholars and policymakers prescribe legal titling to improve prospects for economic development and political order. However, a public choice literature exists that has long recognized that self-governance often works well and that the state may not be able to improve upon local economic institutions at reasonable cost. Although the implication that legal titling should proceed with caution is seemingly straightforward, the literature on legal titling does not take anarchy seriously as a policy option. In addition, there is a public choice literature that presumes the state is the most important source of property rights. This essay fills this gap in the property rights literature by applying the concept of “efficient anarchy” to legal titling in Afghanistan. Original fieldwork evidence from rural Afghanistan suggests that anarchy of land governance is a better option than legal titling. The essay concludes by opening up the black box of state building by explaining why it often makes sense to sequence improvements in political capacity and political constraints prior to investing in legal titling.


Property rights Legal titling Governance Anarchy Afghanistan Post-conflict reconstruction 

JEL Classification

H1 K1 O2 



We are grateful to Peter T. Leeson and two anonymous reviewers for exceptionally useful comments and suggestions. We benefitted from discussions on anarchy and self-governance with Dan Berkowitz, Dan Bromley, Evgeny Finkel, Ed Friedman, Scott Gehlbach, Paul Lundberg, Werner Troesken, and Dave Weimer. M. Yasin Safar and J. David Stanfield provided invaluable insight into land governance in Afghanistan. This research would not have been possible without generous support and encouragement from Democracy International, the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, and incredible research assistance provided by M. Hassan Wafaey, Fauzia Rahimi, Ghulam Sakhi Frozish, Bahir Sadat, Nasreen Quraishi, and Gulalai Karimi.


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graduate School of Public and International AffairsUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA

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