Recently the Cato Institute, Washington, announced that Hernando de Soto is to be felicitated with the Milton Friedman Prize for advancing liberty. This is a very important moment from the point of view that de Soto is the only man whose book on property rights has become a hot-selling topic globally, which otherwise is considered a dull subject by most. However, this is not the only accolade for the noted Peruvian economist. He was also awarded the 2004 Templeton Freedom Prize for market solutions to poverty. Thailand has also decided to award him a Royal Order.
Soto was a businessman, who after working in Europe for 30 years, took retirement from work and went back to his country. In 1980, de Soto created the Institute for Liberty and Democracy, for which the Peruvian Marxist terror group Shining Path targeted him for assassination.
The reason why he assumes centrestage is crucial. His theory that poverty in developing countries is a function of lack of property rights was long awaited and has finally happened. Property rights are the dividing lines between affluence and poverty. Even though the process of instituting property rights was nearly completed in Europe and the US over a century ago, there are still four or five billion people in the developing countries – a quarter of those being Chinese – who have not benefited from such systems.
Be it de Soto’s emphasis or the fact that 30 million Indians go to bed hungry, the need to address land issues and specifically property rights is the key to many components and sub-components of development. This award will perhaps help highlight his work among developing countries, many of them being in Asia.
May be things will change in these countries. May be this makes mapping
community more relevant in nation building efforts.
Let us rise to Soto’s noble intentions, if not ours…!