The Not So Wild, Wild West: Property Rights on the Frontier

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Stanford University Press, 2004 - Business & Economics - 263 pages
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Mention of the American West usually evokes images of rough and tumble cowboys, ranchers, and outlaws. In contrast, The Not So Wild, Wild West casts America's frontier history in a new framework that emphasizes the creation of institutions, both formal and informal, that facilitated cooperation rather than conflict. Rather than describing the frontier as a place where heroes met villains, this book argues that everyday people helped carve out legal institutions that tamed the West.

The authors emphasize that ownership of resources evolves as those resources become more valuable or as establishing property rights becomes less costly. Rules evolving at the local level will be more effective because local people have a greater stake in the outcome. This theory is brought to life in the colorful history of Indians, fur trappers, buffalo hunters, cattle drovers, homesteaders, and miners. The book concludes with a chapter that takes lessons from the American frontier and applies them to our modern "frontiers"--the environment, developing countries, and space exploration.


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Another book from the Mises website shelves ( finished. The Not so Wild, Wild West – is a good book focusing on the economics of the West and how the frontier expanded, grew and developed. One of the first things to note was that the first Americans fairly purchased lands from the Indians. It was not until the standing armies of the Spanish War and Civil War that we “took” their lands. The capitalist does not have an army to bully and kill, but big governments do. The idea of a “wild west” is a near fiction. Seems as though people have a built in understanding that fighting is a “zero-sum gain” and cooperation is the key to success or even survival. In the Old West men respected one another (private property) and worked together. Comman Law (and Natural Law) were used in the void of government. Those who abused the law were given a fair trial under this system. 


Property Rights in Indian Country
Might Takes Rights in Indian Country
Traders Trappers and Hunters
Theres Property Rights in Them Thar Hills
WagonTrain Governments
Cowboys and Contracts
Home on the Range
Making the Desert Bloom
New Frontiers

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About the author (2004)

Terry L. Anderson is Executive Director of PERC, the Center for Free Market Environmentalism; Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University; and Professor Emeritus at Montana State University. He has published 28 books. P. J. Hill is Professor of Economics at Wheaton College, Illinois, and a PERC Senior Associate. This is his eleventh book.

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