Future of Property Rights
Understanding the impact of technology on property rights and the opportunities it creates
Property rights formalization is beneficial for society.
Formalizing real property rights—making them known and acknowledged by all constituents—is a powerful tool for strengthening society. Formalized property rights result in wealth creation/poverty alleviation, preservation of natural resources, increased community resilience and perceived security, conflict prevention, and the rebuilding of fragile states.
The promise of property rights formalization has been unmet to date.
The literature around property rights has been in place for decades and it is fair to ask: Why hasn’t more been done to use this powerful option to improve prosperity and security? Three major reasons for the limited progress to date are:
the process to formalize rights is complex, expensive and time-consuming;
community engagement and understanding existing informal systems is essential pre-work that must happen before rights are formalized effectively; and
some existing entities benefit from existing informality, making them resistant to change.
Technology enables society to mitigate each of these challenges.
Recent developments in technology have made it possible to meaningfully reduce the time, cost and complexity of property rights formalization. Digital tools for social engagement can facilitate community engagement and understanding existing norms in some communities. Social media is powerful tool for overcoming political resistance by entrenched powers.
Tech is bringing new players to the space which is also speeding change.
Beyond these direct impacts, technology is also facilitating another welcome development in the space of property right formalization: diversifying the group of involved parties beyond the government. While government must legislate and enforce property rights, it is less clear that it should directly manage the property registry and drive the property registration process, which has been historically been the case. Technology is facilitating the entrance of NGOs and private companies into everything from managing property registries to formalizing property rights. This is contributing to the speed of change.
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