Proudhon hangs his head
September 18, 2019 10:38 AM   Subscribe

 
Right...

Because people that own 400,000 acres (on average) are exactly the same as people who own .25 acres...
posted by The Blue Olly at 10:46 AM on September 18, 2019 [5 favorites]


Wow, it looks like four or five families own 25% of Maine.
posted by all about eevee at 10:47 AM on September 18, 2019 [4 favorites]


I wish we were more focused on the notion of stewardship (ie: who is responsible for the land) than ownership. And then maybe with the responsibility of stewardship would come certain privileges in terms of land usage.

Or as Robert Anton Wilson once put it, private property is fine as long as you don't require the police or the army to keep it. In other words, if most folks respect what you're doing with the land (ie: you're being a good neighbor), then it's all yours.
posted by philip-random at 11:01 AM on September 18, 2019 [15 favorites]


It's difficult for me to have patience with an article that justifies the Malheur occupiers as just wanting to use "that land in ways that most benefited them individually and the communities those lands are located in", and almost doesn't even mention the people who were killed and driven into exile by the white settlers motivated by that same belief. Give the land back to its rightful indigenous stewards before talking about some pretty ideal of "the commons".
posted by J.K. Seazer at 11:03 AM on September 18, 2019 [36 favorites]


To his credit, the last paragraph of the essay basically concludes that the answer is no.

The general idea that actions on private property can affect others and therefore should be regulated is true, but obvious.

And no serious essay on this subject can fail to engage with the Coasian perspective, which argues that in many cases, the solution is more property rights. For example, he writes, "Just in the past 10 years, Chinese oil companies have been given rights to drill in the last pristine Ecuadoran jungle over the objections of the native people whose home it has been for time out of mind." The problem in such cases is often that the property has been stolen from the native people, who presumably would have not allowed drilling if they had kept control. And if it's the government that allowed drilling, then it's the "common" control that led to the problem.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:39 AM on September 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


Maybe we could require land to be zoned as in-use and private or not-in-use and public. It could be based on things like the presence of an occupied dwelling and whether the land is in active use. In-use land could be things like corrals, dirt bike courses, shooting ranges, barns, cultivated farmland, etc.

Once that's established, the rest of the owned property could either become private property if they take full ownership of maintaining the environmental health of the land including some taxes that would go to broader environmental efforts, clean energy research, etc. Or they can have it treated as public (park?) land where anyone can go and the government would maintain it like any other federal land. There'd need to be some kind of lock-in of, say, 5-10 years, after zoning it a particular way.

That way, super-wealthy people can own all the things like they so desperately need to while still providing a way for that land to benefit the society that surrounds it. The same society that provided all the opportunities for the wealthy to be able to buy up the land in the first place.
posted by Godspeed.You!Black.Emperor.Penguin at 11:51 AM on September 18, 2019




A rare case where Betteridge's law of headlines doesn't apply.

notion of stewardship is definitely more of a thing in much of Scandinavia - I wouldn't be sad to have some of those ideas transfer to the US.

The Malheur people are a terrible example of anything other than how to rationalize offset externalities vis-a-vis public land. They should not be grazing cattle there. No one should be grazing cattle there.

I suppose I'm not surprised Bloomberg could publish an entire article about this without using the word "enclosure" anywhere.

Maybe we could require land to be zoned as in-use and private or not-in-use and public. It could be based on things like the presence of an occupied dwelling and whether the land is in active use. In-use land could be things like corrals, dirt bike courses, shooting ranges, barns, cultivated farmland, etc.

Land ownership in the United States is significantly more complicated than this already, especially if you want to get into mineral rights, the BLM, and all the Federal Acts of the 1970s.
posted by aspersioncast at 12:02 PM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


All this airy theorizing is a complete waste of time and attention - let's just focus on something simple: more aggressive taxation, which would prompt the superwealty to have to sell (or have less money to acquire) such acreage.

(Sooooo tempted to link to Monty Python's "Huge Tracts of Land" scene, but trying to keep things dignified here...)
posted by PhineasGage at 12:02 PM on September 18, 2019 [10 favorites]


And no serious essay on this subject can fail to engage with the Coasian perspective, which argues that in many cases, the solution is more property rights.
Mr.Know-it-some

It argues that, but even your linked article notes that the opposite is true:
However, the number of situations for which Coasian bargaining is feasible and desirable is limited. First, Coasian bargaining does not eliminate the role of government in assigning initial property rights. This process will be subject to special interest group lobbying and rent seeking. In addition, because many environmental externalities are indirect, cumulative and uncertain and because resorting to the legal system involves inefficiency, the costs of enforcing or striking a Coasian bargain may be large. Moreover, as many externalities are intertemporal, future generations are simply not present in any bargain.
Another limit to Coasian markets comes from the fact that many environmental externalities, like car emissions or noise in the vicinity of airports, or global effects such as climate change and ozone layer destruction, involve a large number of people. For example, a farmer who pollutes his water supply may be one of numerous upstream farmers affecting thousands of downstream neighbors’. Bringing all the relevant agents to the negotiating table would be difficult and expensive. The transaction costs (of aggregating the interests of all the affected parties, hiring lawyers, negotiating an optimal abatement level, and enforcing a market agreement) will prevent a private bargain even with a clear allocation of rights. Moreover, individuals will be tempted to act as free riders in negotiations, undermining the negotiations themselves. Individuals would treat the outcome of negotiations as beyond their control and therefore, be unwilling to bear any transaction costs (Baumol and Oates, 1988). Thus, when externalities take place in future, or when transaction costs are important and when the number of participants is large, Coasian solutions to environmental externalities must be ruled out.
It only works in a theoretical perfectly spherical frictionless vacuum. In the real world where things like transaction costs, limited information, power imbalances, future effects, and uncertainty exist, it's libertarian jerk-off nonsense.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:14 PM on September 18, 2019 [9 favorites]


"One would think, to hear people talk, that the Rothchilds and the Rockefellers were on the side of property. But obviously they are the enemies of property; because they are enemies of their own limitations. They do not want their own land; but other people’s. . . It is the negation of property that the Duke of Sutherland should have all the farms in one estate; just as it would be the negation of marriage if he had all our wives in one harem." - G.K. Chesterton.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:32 PM on September 18, 2019 [4 favorites]


I was told by a former employee of the Hewlett family, of the Hewlett-Packard tribe, that they had a ranch somewhere in the Central Valley California, that was the same size as San Francisco, around 49 sq miles. Why?
posted by njohnson23 at 12:56 PM on September 18, 2019


All this airy theorizing is a complete waste of time and attention - let's just focus on something simple: more aggressive taxation, which would prompt the superwealty to have to sell (or have less money to acquire) such acreage.

The issue cuts deeper than just class, and it gets (like so many things) to the history of race and racism in this country. I'm not aware of a good book-length treatment of this subject, or even a dissertation — somebody please chime in if you know of one — but, at least in the South, property rights changed dramatically after emancipation:
To keep black people off white land, states enacted trespass laws with harsh penalties. Louisiana criminalized trespass in 1865. The following year, Georgia made it a crime to take anything of value. Also, the states closed the range to livestock owned by blacks. The states closed the range in some counties by fiat. Elsewhere, the legislature allowed local ballots, but limited voting to white landowners. In 1880, sixty percent of Alabamians lived in closed range counties, but those counties had eighty-one percent of the black population. White opponents of enclosure often were accused of being pro-black, the political trump card in the era.
That said, the idea that taxing/redistributing is a just solution to private ownership has been proposed at least as far back as the 1790s by Thomas Paine. (I'd be interested to know of earlier versions of this idea.)

"The author of “The Tragedy of the Commons” was Garrett Hardin, a University of California professor who until then was best-known as the author of a biology textbook that argued for “control of breeding” of “genetically defective” people." Just saying!

See this previous thread for more criticism of Hardin.
posted by compartment at 1:02 PM on September 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


That Georgism you like is going to come back in style.
posted by jason_steakums at 1:14 PM on September 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


Land Tax!

Also land can be considered personal property if you're living and using it and private property if you're using it as a means of production that other folks are waging on. I don't believe in private property. Land that isn't in use or used as a means to produce wealth should be returned to the community.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 2:04 PM on September 18, 2019 [6 favorites]


I was surprised that Peter Buck bought so much land with his sweet REM money but then I used Google and discovered a rich imposter who lacks the sweet chops of THE Peter Buck.
posted by misterpatrick at 2:19 PM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


This is interesting that the Drummonds (of Ree and Pioneer woman fame) seem missing from the list, when they're reported as 23rd largest fairly recently.
posted by Carillon at 2:33 PM on September 18, 2019




The problem with public ownership of land and other resources is that fabulous rewards await looter governments that can contrive to get power by fair means or foul, as happened in Russia under Yeltsin, Bolsonaro in Brazil, Trump in the US, and so on.
posted by jamjam at 3:45 PM on September 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


That sounds like a looter problem and not a public ownership problem.
posted by Reyturner at 4:36 PM on September 18, 2019 [5 favorites]


Also land can be considered personal property if you're living and using it and private property if you're using it as a means of production that other folks are waging on. I don't believe in private property. Land that isn't in use or used as a means to produce wealth should be returned to the community.

This is a really critical distinction. Private land is obscene and a massive accelerator to inequality and climate change.
posted by Ouverture at 4:44 PM on September 18, 2019 [10 favorites]


Something is off, or not being explained, in this content: they talk about their whole thing covering 40 million acres.

Weyerhaeuser, in timber, is one of the if not the largest non-gov't landholder at 12 million+ acres, and they don't seem to make an appearance at the link. Sierra Pacific's timberland does appear, under the Emmerson family, and other business interests do appear. Their methodology section doesn't seem to explain this. Best I can figure is either publicly-traded corporations aren't being counted as private landowners, or maybe it's an artifact of ownership structure, like if Weyerhaeuser has everything under subsidiary LLCs or something like that.

There's no shortage of generic land - I could get an acre out west for like, about the same it would cost me to get out there and visit it. Land near cities, that's dear.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 4:54 PM on September 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


they had a ranch somewhere in the Central Valley California, that was the same size as San Francisco, around 49 sq miles. Why?
Why not? Because they could. What does it matter if they own a ranch in the central valley the size of SF? Confiscating and nationalizing it wouldn't solve the housing problem in SF. You probably don't want to live in the central valley.
posted by Hal Mumkin at 6:03 PM on September 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


Lord Chancellor: So, the forested land I own and hold fallow, for the sake of the wildlife, is a bad thing, and I should open this property up to riffraff?

The endangered species I protect would like to suggest you get a better idea of reality.
posted by Goofyy at 6:24 PM on September 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


And if "riffraf" sounds too classist, too bad. The low life around here come equipped with guns and 4-wheelers, and couldn't care less about the environment.
posted by Goofyy at 6:27 PM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


Funnily enough, your two posts make a really strong case for why all private land should be seized.
posted by Ouverture at 7:09 PM on September 18, 2019 [7 favorites]


Just because some people are rich and own a lot of land doesn't mean that land can't be private or that public land should all be private or that we need to tear up the quite good existing system of reserves, parks and conservation easements. WTF? That makes no sense.

Some land is publicly held for the good of the environment OR the good of people and some land is privately held, usually for the good of people only but sometimes for both. If you want to protect land in perpetuity you donate or sell it to public land agencies. This is not a bad system at all. We are not the only species on this planet and some land must be set aside.

The idea of letting "local communities" determine land use? Let me make a rude noise. Whenever that happens it is amazing how resource extraction companies suddenly move there.
posted by fshgrl at 7:18 PM on September 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


Just doing some really quick math (and making a lot of assumptions), it seems like we could divide the contiguous US evenly among all 330 million Americans and everyone would get 5 acres each, so it's not like there's not room.
posted by reductiondesign at 8:38 PM on September 18, 2019


The idea of letting "local communities" determine land use? Let me make a rude noise. Whenever that happens it is amazing how resource extraction companies suddenly move there.

It would be nice if we assumed people talking about how it would be better if there was no reason for any one person to "own" more land than they need to live, others imagined that there might be other legal and social changes that would accompany such a shift. People are rarely suggesting a single radical change in isolation.
posted by Acid Communist at 9:29 AM on September 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


If everyone had 5 acres we'd completely destroy the environment and ecology. Not to mention the cost of the roads, sewer, utilities, water infrastructure and the upkeep burden on landowners.

There is plenty of precedent for this world wide. Dense housing with open tracts of land for farming, timber and wildlife makes far more sense. Large tracts of private land are usually managed for a mix of uses, often including conservation and wildlife. It's not like it's hurting anyone go have empty land with restricted access or public land with rules for use. People get unreasonably bent out of shape about that.
posted by fshgrl at 12:06 PM on September 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


Thinking that only rich people who hold wilderness in private hands can preserve the environment is extremely limited in imagination and accusing the rich of knowing what's better than the poor. Some rich people hold land well; many do not.

The solution is not to count on the noblesse oblige of the capitalist. The solution is to abolish the capitalist and return the land to communal ownership. That which isn't needed for human survival and flourishing can be stewarded by the community.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 9:08 AM on September 20, 2019 [3 favorites]


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