dudejcb wrote:I'm intrigued by this notion of an optimal level of government land ownership. I imagine you have a formula or function to describe this theoretical balance point. Or not!
From my observation, it appears federal land ownership is governed a few ways. The "best places" are set aside as parks, national recreation, or wilderness areas. The worst are owned because no one really wants them except perhaps to strip away some value (grazing, timber, minerals) while not having to protect, defend, pay taxes, or pay to clean up their messes on the acreage. And another seems to be for public benefit (public use or as a public benefit ... e. g., the dams for power and irrigation administered by TVA, BPA, and the Bureau of Reclamation. There are other drivers as well, but this isn't meant to be exhaustive.
I don't have a formula. If you did, there certainly would be many subjective values that go into that formula where every single individual would value them differently, which is where representative government comes in. Of course, representative government is great when your opinions are in the minority, but sucks when your opinions are far outside the mainstream.
This is soft science and not hard science
While I generally agree with the "best places" being retained by government. My definition for FEDERAL ownership is something truly unique (i.e., a national treasure) like Yellowstone that has great value to people well beyond the borders of the state where it lies. Most parks and wilderness areas that should be retained by the government are local or regional treasures if you will where the land is little to no value beyond the state or border states and these should be retained by the state government. Most outdoor recreation areas fall into this category in my opinion. Granted this is all heavily based on opinion and subjective value judgments. Then there are areas of value to the local community and little value beyond that, so these should be under local government control.
Another category of land that should be owned by government is land for legitimate functions of government. The federal government requires some pretty huge pieces of property for this and it's hard to argue that the Nevada desert is not the optimum place to have located the Nevada Test Site or the Nellis Air Force Base.
And I do agree that there are cases where things such as dams that provide true general welfare benefits (e.g., flood control, barge access, etc.) that cannot be capitalized should be government functions. These are high value high capital investments, but pretty rare things as a fraction of the economy or land area.
Now as far as the "worst" lands. I do not buy your argument. Do farmers "strip" away value from their
land? There intent is to maximize the value of their land. What you are describing is the tragedy of the commons
. When you do not own the land it is typically economically rational to strip away as much value as you can. Sustainable agriculture is economically rational when it is your, when you have a temporary short term lease or in competition with others to get yours first, it is not. Granted, there still must be regulations, because total elimination of the tragedy of the commons when it comes to air, water, etc. is not 100% avoidable.
It is this desire to maximize the value of the land that leads to maximizing the value of the land. That doesn't mean an acre of Nevada desert will ever be worth an acre in Manhattan. It does mean that over time, on average it will be more valuable than it otherwise would have been because the right incentives are in place. Would the people of Kansas made the same level of investments they made if they did not own the land, but simply had a lease on that land from the government?
Stupid people can cause problems, but it usually takes brilliant people to create a real catastrophe. Thomas Sowell