Q&A with Dr. Anke Kessler

February 18, 2015

What motivated you to present on the topic of reserve land privatization? 

I first got motivated to look into the issue of privatization of reserve land in 2012, when the First Nations Property Ownership Act proposal was being hotly debated in the media (and elsewhere). At the time, I was collecting data on the well being of First Nations on reserve, and it became quickly apparent to me that there was an almost shocking paucity of empirical evidence, which could have informed the discussion. My collaborators and I then decided to obtain records of First Nations land management uses on reserve, and combine those with our existing dataset of economic well-being on reserve, to see whether we could identify any systematic patterns. More generally, though, property rights are an important element of the institutional structure of an economy, and as such, concerns about effective property rights are central to thinking about economic development, and growth.

Please tell us about your research and the research field you have chosen.

Broadly speaking, my research deals with the importance of institutions on economic development and growth, and how their interaction shapes the large differences in prosperity we observe across countries and over time. Within this larger program of research, one strand focuses on the link between governance structures and well-being of First Nations in Canada.  The goal here is to understand the interdependencies between institutions (formal and informal) and well-being over the long term in those communities. As part of this strand of research, one project investigates the likely effects of the proposed First Nations Property Ownership Act (FNPOA) and which bands, if any, may stand to benefit from the possibility to privatize land on their reserves.

What should the audience expect from your upcoming lecture on “Privatization of Reserve Land. Can we expect a de Soto effect from the First Nation Private Property Ownership Act?”

The study I will present in the lecture is meant to contribute to the debate surrounding the privatization of reserve land by empirically examining the effects of an institution that allocates individual property rights  on reserves. This institution, called “lawful possession”  assigns exclusive use of reserve land to individual band members.  It allows leasing of land to third parties, as well as transfer of property (i.e., selling or bequesting). Transfers are, however, still restricted  to other band members. The empirical analysis uses a rich dataset of Census microdata and land registry records for the years 1991-2006, and exploits within-band variation in the use of lawful possession, as well as individual and band leases. Consistent with better property rights, we find that lawful possession has increased home ownership and  improved quality of housing. However, we find little evidence of a sizeable increase on real income for First Nation communities, highlighting the limitation of (partial) property right reforms to reduce poverty in First Nation communities.

Dr. Kessler will be presenting on this topic on March 3 at 7PM as a part of the Lecture Series on Aboriginal Issues, you can find the event details here.


Anke Kessler received her M.SC. in economics from the University of Wisconsin – Madison and her Ph.D. from the University of Bonn, Germany. Before joining the department of Economics at SFU in 2003, she was an assistant professor at the University of Bonn. Prof. Kessler’s main research interests are political institutions and structure of government, fiscal federalism, and development economics.

Her current work is broadly concerned with the interrelation between formal and informal institutions, and well-being.  The research touches on a variety of topics, including policy formation in federal legislatures, informal and development, the effect of culture on economic outcomes, and aboriginal land management. In the past, she has worked on various issues related to federalism, such as intergovernmental transfers, migration and tax competition, and on the economics of asymmetric information.

Some publications include:

  • Communication in Federal Legislatures: Universalism, Policy Uniformity, and the Optimal Allocation of Fiscal Authority, Journal of Political Economy, 2014.
  • Interregional Redistribution and Mobility: A Positive Approach (with N. Hansen and C. Lessmann),  Review of Economic Studies 2011.
  • Fiscal Competition, Redistribution, and the Politics of Economic Integration (with Christoph Lülfesmann and Gordon Myers). Review of Economic Studies 2002.
  • The Political Geography of Tax H(e)avens and Tax Hells (with Nico Hansen). American Economic Review, 2001.

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