The main thesis of De Soto's books is that people in developing countries have only informal ownership of land and goods, without interaction with the formal legal and economic systems. This makes it impossible for the poor to convert their informal ownerships into capital which De Soto claims would form the basis for entrepreneurship. Hence farmers in much of the developing world remain trapped in subsistence agriculture.
De Soto lived for many years in Europe. He did post-graduate work at the Institut Universitaire de Hautes Etudes Internationales in Geneva. He has served as an economist for the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), as president of the Executive Committee of the Copper Exporting Countries Organization (CIPEC), as managing director of Universal Engineering Corporation, as a principal of the Swiss Bank Corporation Consultant Group, and as a governor of Peru's Central Reserve Bank.
De Soto was Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori's personal representative and principal advisor until he resigned two months before latter's self-coup in April, 1992. Between 1988 and 1995, he and the ILD were responsible for some four hundred initiatives, laws, and regulations that modernized Peru's economic system. In particular, ILD designed the land reform of Peru's property system which gave titles to more than 1.2 million families and legitimized some 380,000 firms which previously operated in the black market. In addition, the ILD initiated the policies for the stabilization of Peru's economy and the taming inflation, thereby allowing Peru to return to international financial markets.