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New Evidence for an Old Controversy: Scattered Landholdings and Open Fields

Cull, Robert and Hoffman, Philip T. and Hughson, Eric (1992) New Evidence for an Old Controversy: Scattered Landholdings and Open Fields. Social Science Working Paper, 788. California Institute of Technology , Pasadena, California.

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We bring new evidence to bear on McCloskey's argument that farmers in the open fields reduced risk by scattering their land holdings. The new evidence is the grain output from a number of plots of land in two French villages, Onnaing and Quarouble, during the years 1701-1790. When combined with prices and wages, the output figures provide financial returns for each plot of land, and financial theory then allows us to construct land portfolios that minimize portfolio variance for a given mean return. The virtue of using returns (rather than simple output correlations) is that the returns take into account the price fluctuations farmers encountered. They also allow us to distinguish the benefits of scattering from those produced by crop diversification and they do so with greater accuracy than the output figures. In the end, the returns demonstrate that scattering of land holdings provided relatively little insurance. The real reduction in risk came not from scattering but from the diversification across crops inherent in the three-field system.

Item Type:Report or Paper (Working Paper)
Additional Information:February 1992. We wish to thank Lance Davis for his comments.
Group:Social Science Working Papers
Series Name:Social Science Working Paper
Issue or Number:788
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20160321-100029690
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Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:65525
Deposited On:28 Mar 2016 21:22
Last Modified:03 Oct 2019 09:48

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