Sweet equality: Sugar, property rights, and land distribution in colonial Java

Pim de Zwart and Phylicia Soekhradj on sugar production in colonial Java:

The production of a cash crop like sugar is widely expected to increase social inequality, particularly in a colonial context. This column analyses Java, Indonesia, where the reverse was true. Using detailed data across 368 districts in colonial Java, the authors find that sugar production in the 19th and early 20th centuries stimulated the expansion and persistence of communal landholding, which resulted in property being more equally distributed. The authors stress the importance of local property-rights institutions in determining – and hence, understanding – the effects of export production on socioeconomic outcomes.


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