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Politics and Property Rights: The Closing of the Open Range in the Postbellum South (Studies in Law and Economics)

Politics and Property Rights: The Closing of the Open Range in the Postbellum South (Studies in Law and Economics)

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After the American Civil War, agricultural reformers in the South called for an end to unrestricted grazing of livestock on unfenced land. They advocated the stock law, which required livestock owners to fence in their animals, arguing that the existing system (in which farmers built protective fences around crops) was outdated and inhibited economic growth. The reformers steadily won their battles, and by the end of the century the range was on the way to being closed.

In this original study, Kantor uses economic analysis to show that, contrary to traditional historical interpretation, this conflict was centered on anticipated benefits from fencing livestock rather than on class, cultural, or ideological differences. Kantor proves that the stock law brought economic benefits; at the same time, he analyzes why the law's adoption was hindered in many areas where it would have increased wealth. This argument illuminates the dynamics of real-world institutional change, where transactions are often costly and where some inefficient institutions persist while others give way to economic growth.