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Credit NationProperty Laws and Institutions in Early America$
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Claire Priest

Print publication date: 2021

Print ISBN-13: 9780691158761

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: September 2021

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691158761.001.0001

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Property, Institutions, and Economic Growth in Colonial America

Property, Institutions, and Economic Growth in Colonial America

(p.153) 9 Property, Institutions, and Economic Growth in Colonial America
Credit Nation

Claire Priest

Princeton University Press

This chapter places the book's description of how property rights were defined, enforced, and managed in the British American colonies within the economic history literature. As scholars have identified, property rights are central to both political and economic life. The chapter then considers the complexities in making causal claims about the effect of property law and legal institutions in colonial America on economic growth. First, slavery was central to colonial American economic history and complicates the understanding of the colonial past and its legacies. Second, it examines the current economic history literature on growth rates in colonial British America that provides insufficient data to support a causal claim that legal institutions affected growth. Finally, it discusses the central tradeoff, from an economic standpoint, of a legal regime that is centered on maximizing the remedies available to creditors. The focus in British colonial America on protecting creditors' immediate economic interests with few protections for debtors increased the financial risk in the society. To fully understand the impact of laws and institutions relating to credit markets, it is important to consider the tradeoff between growth and the problems that stem from financial risk.

Keywords:   property rights, British colonial America, British American colonies, colonial institutions, economic growth, slavery, financial risk, credit markets

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