Tuesday, May 25, 2010

How should land ownership/use work?

I've brought up the subject of who owns the air, and I don't think it's too controversial an idea that it is a communal property, though the questions of how we're going to treat it, and who gets to decide how we treat it, might be harder to find agreement on. But what about land? Property ownership is a sacred right, isn't it? "Life, liberty, and property", and all that, or maybe that's supposed to be "... and the pursuit of happiness."

Should we be able to do whatever we want with our property? It's my property, so  I should be able to build what I want on it, destroy or sell the plants, and get rid of whatever critters happen to live there. I'm not affecting anybody else, and if you don't like the way it looks, put up a fence. If I hurt the future value of my property, that's something that I, or my descendent's, will have to deal with. Does this all make sense?

If we go back to talking about the air, we have to take into account that the plants on my land are a part of the oxygen-carbon dioxide cycle, therefore what I do with my property can impact the air that you breathe. Should I be allowed to affect the future of the air that you breathe if I own a large plot of forest land, and I want to chop down the trees and set up an amusement park? Ok, maybe I shouldn't be able to do whatever I want with my property.

Like the air, there is only a limited amount of land in existence that has to provide for all the people on earth (yeah, I know, oceans too, but that is even more like the air situation). What I do with my land isn't able to affect your land as easily as the way my treatment of air affects all air, but there are other factors to keep in mind regarding how we treat land ownership. If people get to own land free and clear, in perpetuity, doesn't this put the owners and their descendants in a position of extreme power over the landless, especially as the population builds and there is less land available per person? If it were possible, would we be ok with people buying up the air, and doling it out as they see fit? The people/families/corporations with the most money would have total control over those who couldn't afford to buy up some air for themselves. Is this a valid comparison to make? Maybe the smart, rich people deserve to have more power and control over the dumb, poor people, what do you think?

I don't know what the best way to approach land use is, and I'm not sure that I've been clear about some of the thoughts I have on the subject. I just think it's an interesting subject to think on, and one that, a few years ago, I probably would have declared unequivocally in favor of land owners having absolute power over their land, with property taxes being a serious infringement on the owners' rights. I no longer believe that some of these questions are as black and white as I once did.


 An interesting paper I came across while writing this: Who Owns America
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