My main criticism is that the book** presents a conceptually insufficient model of economic growth because the role of institutions is left out.This excerpt is a little scary, since it seems to touch on so many topics central to my dissertation, e.g., a water cooperative in a public district with problems managing rights. (I only read this paper after I was done.)
Sometimes the author himself seems vaguely aware of this insufficiency. He is "puzzled" by economic decisions under a feudal land-tenure system and "baffled" by the economic behavior of plantation owners under a system of slavery. Still, none of the economic institutions that are significant for resource use -- such as the systems for owning and using property, the systems of water rights, taxation, collective and cooperative organizations, and quasi-governmental agencies like public districts -- is mentioned, much less systematically treated.
Even more interesting is Wantrup's comment on water institutions:
My concern is that the doctrine discussed in the previous sections will lead to complacency regarding the institutional difficulties that lie ahead in realizing the full benefits of the green revolution and avoiding serious setbacks. According to this doctrine, there are no such difficulties because farmers themselves will accomplish those changes in water institutions that become necessary.This comment is in the tradition of those who critique the Coase Theorem's assumption of zero transaction costs.*** Since institutional transactions costs can be significant, ignoring them can lead to policies that produce perverse, surprising and/or harmful results. Unfortunately, these concerns are still relevant today.
Bottom Line: Read this paper.
* Ciriacy-Wantrup, S-V (1969). "Natural Resources in Economic Growth: The Role of Institutions and Policies." American Journal of Agricultural Economics 51(5). pp. 1314-1324. In the tradition of this, I have posted the paper here.
** Schultz, Theodore (1964) Transforming Traditional Agriculture. Yale University Press. Schultz won the Nobel prize in 1979.
*** Coase did not name the theorem after himself and explicitly acknowledged the strong assumption of zero transaction costs. (To the contrary, he is one of the founders of institutional and transactions costs economics.) He should not be blamed if others cite him in claiming that all externalities can be solved by the simple assignment of property rights.