Barbed Wire (50 Things that Made Modern Economy)
It’s true that modern economy is built on private property, on the legal fact that most things have an owner, usually a person or a cooperation. Modern economy is also built on the idea that private property is a good thing because private property gives people an incentive to invest in and improve what they own, whether it’s a patch of land of the American West, or a parvement in Cocatta (?) or even a piece of intellectual property such as the rights to Mickey Mouse.
It’s a powerful argument. And it was ruthlessly and cynically deployed by those who wanted to claim that native Americans didn’t really have a right to their own territory because they weren’t actively developing it in the sense or style that European saw fit.
So the story of how barbed wire changed the West is also the story of how Property Rights changed the world, and is the story of how even in the sophisticated economy, what the Law says sometimes matters less than simple practicality. Then 1862 Homestead Act laid out the rules on who owns what in the Western territory. But those rules didn’t mean much before they were reinforced by barbed wire.