Do Property Rights Promote Investment But Cause Deforestation?
Many policymakers argue that property rights decrease deforestation. Some theoretical papers also make this prediction, arguing that property rights decrease discount rates applied to a long-term investment in forestry. However, the effect is theoretically ambiguous. The paper takes a novel instrumental variables approach based on Nicaragua’s agrarian reform to test for the effect, using a new dataset—Nicaragua’s 2001 agricultural census. It finds that property rights significantly increase deforestation. The model, supported by the data, suggests a likely mechanism for this relationship: property rights increase investment, increasing agricultural productivity and therefore the returns to deforestation.