How do property rights become secure? How does rule of law take hold in an economy? The author uses an original survey of 516 firms in Russia and Ukraine, as well as interview-based case studies, to reexamine these fundamental issues of political economy. Most states in the developing world lack the requisite time horizons and institutional capacity to make the credible commitments emphasized in the literature. In this context, the author argues that firms can enforce their property rights without resort to mafias by forming alliances with stakeholders such as foreign actors, community residents, and labor. These stakeholders can impose costs on the potential aggressors through diverse political strategies, allowing firms to defend their property rights not only from private predators but also from the state. The article evaluates this “bottomup” theory of secure property rights against existing state-based theorizing.
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