Author(s): Platt HL
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Abstract In The Mystery of Capitalism , the darling of neoliberalism, Hernando de Soto posits that secure property titles explain “why capitalism triumphs in the West and fails everywhere else.” While social scientists have taken him to task for an oversimplification of the causes and remedies of poverty, historians have contributed little to this important policy debate. Applying comparative methods across time and space, such a retrospective analysis exposes serious flaws in de Soto’s thesis. Case studies of Paris, Chicago, and Mexico City covering successive, fifty-year periods support his contention that property law was the single most important factor in determining the fate of rural migrants trying to find a place to live in these exploding cities. But in each case, residential property played a far more complex role in creating the social and physical geography of the city than its simple exchange value. This article illuminates some of these alternative economic uses and embedded cultural meanings of identities of place. It also shows how urban growth machines create capital value in property for some by creating environmental injustice of substandard conditions of everyday life for others.
This article was published in J Urban Hist
and referenced in Journal of Entrepreneurship & Organization Management