Angela Mitropoulos on Sat, 5 Feb 2011 10:12:56 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> Hernando de Soto: Egypt's Economic Apartheid (WSJ)

De Soto's neoliberal prescriptions of formal legal title as a means of 
'economic development' have been put to work in Peru, and more recently 
in Australia (by way of Noel Pearson's rather more normative version of 
de Soto's celebration of formal property titling, and as it has 
inflected the Northern Territory Intervention).

And might I suggest, despite the pre-emptive moves against criticism 
made on nettime, that such a politics (and such an economics) is some of 
the most dubious rubbish to have ever done the rounds.

While people across northern Africa and the Middle East are engaged in 
some of the most courageous acts of rebellion, it is a little sad to see 
neoliberal experiments being dusted off. Perhaps it's not surprising - 
when the supposedly unexpected happens, there's a tendency to call for 
order. And the fortification/expansion of property title is perhaps the 
most significant and crucial order there is in capitalist 

In any case, why would someone hired by the Mubarak regime in 2007 be 
presented as credible? I can see why De Soto is keen to suggest his work 
was 'thwarted' by elements in the Egyptian government just as that 
government is about to fall.  But I am not persuaded.

De Soto's arguments rely on a sloppy understanding of 
exclusion/inclusion and formal/informal, have (in Australia) been put 
into policy alongside some odiously normative conditions that would make 
a religious fundamentalist proud and, where it is not premised on 
re-/productivist normativity, it resolves down into a path not for the 
redistribution of wealth (down and around) but, on the contrary, the 
granting of legal title as a means of its transfer (up, as in foreclosure).

On Peru's 1992-2004 programme, Timothy Mitchell has written:

"The program appeared to have a remarkable effect, although not the one 
anticipated. A number of studies of the Peruvian experiment found that 
property titles had no significant effect on access among the poor to 
business credit (Cockburn 2000; Field and Torero 2002; and other studies 
cited there). Mortgage lending did eventually increase, but only after a 
new government abandoned de Soto’s neoliberal prescriptions and began to 
subsidize low-income mortgages. However, another study found an 
unexpected change in the economic lives of those who became formal 
property owners: they began towork harder. Obtaining title to their 
property seemed to increase the average number of hours that members of 
a household worked by 17 per cent. The data suggested that over time, as 
the effect of titling intensified, the total number of hours worked 
might increase by 40 per cent." [From Mitchell, "The Work of Economics: 
How a Discipline Makes Its World," European Journal of Sociology (2005), 
46: 297-320]

Mitchell goes on to discuss a report compiled by Erica Field, which 
suggested the increase in labour time, and indicates that this might not 
be all that it seemed. His essay is worth reading in full.

In the Australian context, there are critical essays by Penny Lee 
<> and another 
by Nicole Watson <> 
that are also worth reading.


//angela.mitropoulos |

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