The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based think-tank, has announced that it will bestow on Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto the honour of its annual Julian Simon Memorial Award. What possible relevance could a Peruvian economist and the Washington institution have to SA? Quite a lot, as it happens, particularly given the debate over land expropriation without compensation. De Soto, author of The Other Path and The Mystery of Capital, rose to prominence in the 1980s and ’90s when Peru was locked in a bitter struggle with Marxist terrorist group Shining Path. He recognised that while the poor had plenty of entrepreneurial ideas and a will to improve their lives, they were locked out of the formal, legal economy. As he said, "they have houses but not titles; crops but not deeds; businesses but not statutes of incorporation". De Soto set about advocating for the Peruvian government to give legal titles to those whose assets were recognised only informally by the commun...

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