The political economy of Argentina has puzzled scholars, and has led to a large body of research. Yet, the institution of property rights has been understudied. Most literature on institutions in Argentina has utilized either a `big bang' explanation or a critical juncture framework (Waisman, 1987) that emphasizes the actions of Juan Perón in the 1940s. In contrast, new institutional economics (North, 1990) suggests that the characteristics of property rights in a country like Argentina are predetermined by Spanish colonialism.This dissertation refutes these theoretical perspectives. It argues that the evolution of property rights was the result of a multitude of individual, incremental policy reforms (Streeck and Thelen, 2005) often made in response to economic and social crises. It brings back to the study of property rights the relevance of its social/political dimensions that have been sidelined by a focus on its material/economic dimensions by the new institutional economists and political economists.Beginning in the late 1910s, the social function of property was debated in political and academic circles in Argentina. Change was nevertheless incremental with the social function of property first emerging de facto. This happened when political and economic actors began to perceive that the Argentine national government had the bureaucratic capacity to exploit petroleum and enforce the social function of property. Consequently, the de jure redefinition of property rights in the 1949 Constitution was an artifact of what had become a de facto--not a `big bang'--change. While the theory of incremental change may explain how the institution evolved, it cannot explain why. The dissertation indicates that de jure and de facto conditions of property rights have different explanations. The characteristics of de jure changes are explained by variation in the status of the 'formula for prosperity,' socio-economic conditions, and bureaucratic capacity. In contrast, de facto conditions are largely susceptible to the unintended consequences of the de jure changes and the law of limited cognitive ability. This new understanding of the evolution of property rights contributes a piece to solving the Argentine puzzle.
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