Hernando de Soto
January 20, 2006, LIMA — Two recent natural disasters have grabbed our hearts - the tsunami that ravaged 11 countries on the shores of the Indian Ocean, history's worst, and the hurricane called Katrina that inundated the city of New Orleans. Images from both regions were tragically similar: demolished buildings, floating corpses, stunned survivors, and water, water everywhere.
There was one profound difference. In New Orleans, the first thing authorities did to secure the peace and assure rebuilding was to salvage the city's legal property records that would quickly determine who owned what and where, who owed what and how much, who could be relocated quickly, who was creditworthy to finance reconstruction, whose property was so damaged that they needed help, and how to give the poor energy and clean water.
In Southeast Asia, there were no such legal records to be found, because most of the tsunami's victims had lived and worked outside the law.
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