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Scholars and policymakers prescribe legal titling to improve prospects for economic development and political order. However, a public choice literature exists that has long recognized that self-governance often works well and that the state may not be able to improve upon local economic institutions at reasonable cost. Although the implication that legal titling should proceed with caution is seemingly straightforward, the literature on legal titling does not take anarchy seriously as a policy option. In addition, there is a public choice literature that presumes the state is the most important source of property rights. This essay fills this gap in the property rights literature by applying the concept of “efficient anarchy” to legal titling in Afghanistan. Original fieldwork evidence from rural Afghanistan suggests that anarchy of land governance is a better option than legal titling. The essay concludes by opening up the black box of state building by explaining why it often makes sense to sequence improvements in political capacity and political constraints prior to investing in legal titling.
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