It is a common temptation in the months before an election for politicians to promise the moon to those voters they fear might be attracted to the similarly lofty promises of a rival party. But it would be easier to send someone to the moon than to deliver on many of the more shameless promises made by desperate politicians. The latest attention-grabbing promise, through which South African politicians have made world headlines, is that the expropriation of land without compensation will assure greater prosperity through enhanced economic efficiency and improved food security through the diversity of farm ownership. Although there are conditions under which a reasonable argument for “land reform” could be made, governments that make such promises of expropriation under electoral duress rarely understand, or are willing to implement, the policies needed to assure the fair and efficient allocation of property in the future. This is why most such politically expedient reforms have resu...

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