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When most people try to conjure an image of Indian reservations today, it tends to be a gloomy one. And while this isn’t true of all reservations, it does remain true of many. On this week’s EconTalk episode, host Russ Roberts welcomes back Terry Anderson to discuss how to unlock the wealth of Indian nations.

Anderson and Roberts provide an overview of the history of economic institutions among Native Americans from pre-European times. The innovation and entrepreneurial spirit described is fascinating, and the story of their deterioration equally so. Most know the record of the confiscation or “sale” of native lands, the horrific effects of European diseases on native populations, and so on. This episode tells another part of the story not as often told. For example, I was unaware of just how much land within large swathes of reservation land is owned by non-Indians. Anderson likens the pattern of ownership on reservations to Swiss cheese. The question of ownership is a complicated one, as Bryan Caplan discussed in this 2012 post. The discussion of why so many tribes have been unable to find ways of continuing economic prosperity is enlightening, as is Anderson’s subtle claim that the answer to the Indians’ economic woes is not simply getting the federal government out of their business. (See also this 2006 Feature Article by Fred McChesney on the complicated relationship between Indian casinos and the state.)

We hope you’ll head over to EconTalk and listen to this week’s episode or read through the highlights. Look for our Extra coming soon…We hope to hear from you!