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The Not So Wild, Wild West: Property Rights on the Frontier (Stanford Economics & Finance) Hardcover – May 4, 2004

4.4 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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"Hollywood will never be able to top this portrayal of the history of the West in the U.S. The history that Anderson and Hill depict is the current situation of the majority of entrepreneurs in developing and former Soviet countries. It is not only an extraordinary insight into the genesis of America, but also the key to understanding better the Middle East, Central Asia, and all the Third World today."—Hernando de Soto, President of the Institute for Liberty and Democracy


"Emergent, self-ordering institutional arrangements and property right norms are commonplace. But they are invisible to all those who rely upon them to create wealth, and who may believe falsely that all such rules come from legislated law. Anderson and Hill have made visible an impressive array of examples from US frontier history."—Vernon L. Smith, George Mason University, 2002 Nobel Laureate in Economics


"Far from being an anarchic free-for-all, the American West was a ferment of social innovation, a place where men and women strove to invent co-operative arrangements they could trust. Anderson and Hill powerfully undermine the pervasive idea that social order and property rights are imposed from above by the state, and reveal instead that they are usually achieved from below by free negotiation between individuals."—Matt Ridley, Author of The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation and Nature via Nurture


"The Not So Wild, Wild West represents the best of what the new institutional economics can contribute for understanding economics and political behavior in the American West."—Gary Libecap, Eller College of Business and Public Administration, The University of Arizona


"This is a book that had to be written, and Anderson and Hill are the ones that had to write it. Literature on the American West has placed too much emphasis on wars, violence, and conflict. Rather time and time again, as this book shows, institutions were devised that peaceably allocated resources and resolved conflicts."—Mark Kanazawa, Carleton College
"[T]heoretically rich and factually entertaining."—Law and Politics Book Review
"I give the book high marks for shedding new light on old paradigms and for accumulating solid evidence for an economic interpretation of western history."—Utah HIstorical Quarterly
"From wagon trains to wildlife and from mining rights to irrigation companies Not So again and again challenges conventional wisdom and challenges us all with its rigorous application of freely transferable property rights."—Economic Affairs
"This new book is more accessible to the historian and interesting to the general reader. It is essential reading for anyone with an interest in western history, political science, law, or economics."—Journal of American History
"The Not So Wild, Wild West is a beautifully written and printed volume that teaches us much about the American West, but also about human nature and the economic way of thinking. Congratulations to Terry Anderson and P.J. Hill for an outstanding book."—Regulation

From the Inside Flap

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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Product Details

  • Series: Stanford Economics & Finance
  • Hardcover: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Stanford Economics and Finance; 1 edition (May 4, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804748543
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804748544
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #115,223 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By F. E. Guerra Pujol on November 14, 2005
Format: Hardcover
P.J. Hill and Terry Anderson, two very respected American economists, have written a very thoughtful book about the spontaneous emergence of law and order in the "Wild, Wild West" of yesteryear. Their love of the great outdoors and of their native state of Montana shows through and through in this beautiful tome. They delve into a variety of fascinating topics in their book, such as the gold rush, the fur trade, the wagon trail, and the Indian wars. In addition, they provide a wonderful overview of the theory of property rights, and their book contains many helpful maps, well-organized charts, and some beautiful pictures. Anyone who is interested not only in the history of the American West but also in economics generally and property rights specifically should take the time to read this book. I heartily recommend their book to anyone with an interest in these topics.
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Explains how the Wild West managed to have way more law and order than Americans tend to think. It covers how interference by Washington, which was clueless about conditions in the West, ended logical rules that were working. Arizonans, and their environment, are still paying the price for water rights legislated by a wet Washington over the arid West. For all those with an open mind who want to know what would happen if Washington left the states alone to govern themselves.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is written by two scholars who would describe themselves as free market environmentalists. If you don't know what that is, you should probably read this book. In contrast to other tomes on such matters, it engages the topic through inherently fun examples, taken from the "Wild West" in US history.

In the first chapter, Anderson and Hill discuss various systems of property rights on the Wild West: tribal institutions, fur traders, miners in the Sierra Nevada, water rights of prior appropriation, and Cattlemen's associations.

The second chapter provides a general review of the concept of property rights and how they are designed. Anderson and Hill recognize from the start that many people use systems of property rights to benefit themselves at the expense of others. This "rent-seeking" often involves messing with the market, and harms society as a whole. In short, Anderson and Hill recognize (at least in principle) that property rights may not always be efficient in economic terms. They are fair minded, at least in principle, allowing that government, local communities, and/or entrepreneurs might each provide solutions to these problems in both theory and practice.

The next two chapters make this abstract argument concrete by looking at property rights in Indian country. Obviously, most Indian lands were taken by force or by the threat of force, an excellent example of rent-seeking by whites with tragic effects for Natives.

After this, the authors turn to a series of other property rights issues in the West, from fur traders and wagon trains to mining camps and Mormon irrigation.
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Format: Hardcover
Though I don't have definitive proof, I believe this is an expansion of a research piece originally written in the late 1970's and published in The Journal of Libertarian Studies (vol 3, issue 1). The original title was "American Experiment in Anarcho-Capitalism: The Not So Wild, Wild West".
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This book was a assigned for a political economy class but was interesting and easy to read. I am keeping this book as it explains a lot about human behavior and had examples showing how people have always cooperated to meet their own goals.
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I don't have a lot of time to really give this review its due. However, I highly recommend this book to anyone trying to deepen their understanding of how property rights have affecteed and continue to affect our society. Hill is as gifted of a teacher as he is an economist and he and TA complement each other immensely.
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What a great lesson on the history of the West. I highly recommend it.

I especially enjoyed learning about the Indian Wars.
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