Latifundia as Malefactor in Economic Development? Scale, Tenancy, and Agriculture on the Pampas, 1880-1914
NBER Historical Working Paper No. 96
This paper uses extensive micro-level data from Argentine agriculture circa 1880-1914 to explore various hypotheses relating to the supposed unusual and favored position enjoyed by the owner-operated large scale estates (latifundia) on the pampas as compared to small-scale units operated by cash tenants and sharecroppers. I have access to several data sets which allow me to explore whether tenancy and scale mattered as determinants of technique and efficiency in the rural estates of Buenos Aires province at the turn of the century, and I obtain some surprising results. Tenants did not seem disadvantaged in terms of access to land. Accumulation of land in and of itself produced no direct gain in terms of augmented land prices (due to say, scale economies or monopoly power). And tenancy status appears to have mattered very little as a determinant of investment choices. I conclude that the case against the latifundia, and the pessimistic conventional view of tenant farming on the pampas rests, at present, on little firm quantitative evidence.
Published: Research in Economic History, Vol. 17 (1997): 261-300.