Abstract

Substantial variety exists among systems of land and business formalization both over time and across countries. For instance, England relied on private titling and delayed land registration for centuries. In contrast, early on, its American colonies imported land recordation and its Australian colonies land registration. Similarly, in most of the world, governments used to allow voluntary land titling, in which owners decide whether they register their land. Recently, however, governments and international agencies have more often opted for universal titling, aiming to register all the land in a certain region. This paper critically examines these strategies, analyzing the costs and benefits of the two main decisions: whether to create a public titling system or to rely exclusively on private titling, and the choice between voluntary and universal titling. It concludes that universal titling is seldom optimal. In particular, it argues that lack of titling is more a consequence than a cause of poverty.