Small Farms, Large Transaction Costs: Haiti’s Missing Sugar

Abstract: In the eighteenth century, Haiti was the world’s leading sugar producer, but when cane surged in the Caribbean in the early twentieth century, Haiti produced none. Instead, the land sat idle while workers emigrated to work on sugar plantations. I examine the hypothesis that historical property rights institutions created high transaction costs for converting land to cane production. I collect new data on land-use from 1928–1950 and a proxy for transaction costs. The evidence suggests transaction costs impeded the land market from responding to the sugar boom.