Three Essays on the Economics of Property Rights with Applications to the Political Economy of Italian Unification

Rosolino Candela

Advisor: Peter J Boettke, PhD, Department of Economics

Committee Members: Christopher J. Coyne, Peter T. Leeson

Buchanan Hall, #135
March 30, 2017, 09:00 AM to 07:00 AM


My dissertation constitutes of three chapters on the economics of property rights with particular application to the political economy of Italian unification during the early 19th century. In the first chapter, I argue that well-defined and exchangeable private property rights yield economic growth by operating as a filter on economic behavior – the establishment of property rights embedded in the rule of law weeds out unproductive entrepreneurship and the corresponding politicized redistribution of property rights with rent-seeking and predation as its consequence, and engenders instead productive entrepreneurship, and a more efficient allocation of property rights, and with that a realization of the gains from trade and the gains from innovation. The fundamental cause of economic development, I argue, is the institution of private property, as it is this institutional framework that results in productive specialization and peaceful cooperation among diverse and disparate individuals. In chapter two, I explore this notion of institutional resilience for the study of self-governance in Sicily prior to creation of the Italian state. I argue that feudalistic Sicily, rather than being characterized by institutional inertia during this period, illustrates a resilient period of self-governance in the face of successive political changes while under foreign rule. In particular, I focus on the emergence of property rights that structured self-enforcing economic and social relationships. Identifying such resiliency in institutions has implications for the historiography of Sicily and understanding what role the creation of Italian state played in undermined the resiliency of such institutions. In chapter three, I explore the causes of poor institutional outcomes in Sicily relative to northern Italy. I challenge the claim that Sicily’s poor institutional performance can be explained by a lack of social capital prior to Italian unification. I argue that economic and political outcomes in Sicily are a function of public policies implemented during the political process of Italian unification. Underlying this political process was a policy of land reform intended to erode the political power of the landed aristocracy in Sicily. However, the result of this policy was regulatory capture by Sicily’s landed elites. Due to regulatory capture, the government’s inability to secure and enforce of property rights inhibited social cooperation in Sicily, resulting in poor institutional outcomes.