This idea of a deed protecting property seems simple, but it's powerful. Commerce between total strangers wouldn't happen otherwise. It applies to more than just skyscrapers and factories. It applies to stock markets, which only work because of deed-like paperwork that we trust because we have the rule of law.
Is de Soto saying that if the developing world had the rule of law they could become as rich as we are?
"Oh, yes. Of course. But let me tell you, bringing in the rule of law is no easy thing."
De Soto started his work in Peru, as an economic adviser to the president, trying to establish property rights there. He was successful enough that leaders of 23 countries, including Russia, Libya, Egypt, Honduras and the Philippines, now pay him to teach them about property rights. Those leaders at least get that they're doing something wrong.
"They get it easier than a North American," he said, "because the people who brought the rule of law and property rights to the United States (lived) in the 18th and 19th centuries. They were your great-great-great-great-granddaddies."
De Soto says we've forgotten what made us prosperous. "But (leaders in the developing world) see that they're pot-poor relative to your wealth." They are beginning to grasp the importance of private property.
Let's hope we haven't forgotten what they are beginning to learn.