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Property Rights and Safety

In today’s Washington Post, Anne Applebaum rightly argues that levels of destruction and death sparked by natural disasters are determined by more than natural-disasters’ physical magnitudes, such as earthquakes’ Richter-scale measures.  Political, social, and economic institutions also play huge roles.

And while Applebaum is also right to note that Chileans can, much more reliably than can Haitians, sue negligent builders for damages, she misses a deeper difference between the laws of these two countries: the security of property rights.  In Chile, property rights are secure; in Haiti they are not.  The only countries in which property rights are less secure than in Haiti are the Central African Republic, Chad, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Property rights are more secure even in the likes of Venezuela and Zimbabwe!

No one will invest the skilled engineering, advanced materials, and other costly resources required to construct and maintain a building meant to last if that building might be taken from its owner tomorrow.