I’ve said it many times and in so many ways: The federal government needs to divest itself of the vast majority of its vast Western public land holdings.
I’ve said it so often — and I have the links to prove it from this year alone here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here — that Derek Yonai’s piece in Sunday’s Viewpoints section of the Review-Journal seems downright redundant. But, if there is any topic in this economic downturn that deserves redundancy, this may be it.
Yonai, an economics prof from North Carolina, says of the land controlled by the federal government:
“All of this federally owned land is ‘dead property,’ meaning it is not available for development and its value is not being realized. It is like being given an economic engine that can make your life better but having an invisible barrier blocking you from using it.”
He goes on to argue that freeing the state’s land from the traces of the overbearing federal landlord would allow Nevada citizens to create income and jobs — buy mineral rights and hire miners, hire construction workers to build homes and businesses, open industrial parks and factories. “Free Nevada and unleash the entrepreneur.”
An example of how this works was laid out in a speech before the U.S. Senate in 1838 by Daniel Webster, who remarked about the great wealth created by selling public lands to private owners who then put it to good and profitable use:
“In the last three years thirty-seven millions of acres of land have been separated from the wilderness, purchased, paid for, and become subject to private individual ownership, to transfer and sale, and all other dispositions to which other real estate is subject. It has thus become property, to be bought and sold for money; whereas, while in the hands of Government, it called for no expenditure, formed the basis of no transactions, and created no demand for currency. Within that short period our people have bought from Government a territory as large as the whole of England and Wales, and, taken together far more fertile by nature. This seems incredible, yet the returns show it.”
For those who like a little perspective in the grand scale of things, the federally controlled land today in Nevada alone is approximately the same size as all of the United Kingdom — England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and assorted islands — though perhaps not as fertile in the traditional meaning.
In an op-ed article in the Los Angeles Times earlier this year titled “Free the American West: Get the federal government off public lands that are of no national importance,” Robert H. Nelson, who worked in the Interior Department from 1975 to 1993 and now is a prof in Maryland, explained rather succinctly why the federal stewardship is a problem:
“Most public land decisions are made by two federal agencies, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, and involve matters such as the number of cows that will be allowed to graze, the areas available to off-road recreational vehicles, the prevention and fighting of forest fires, the building of local roads, the amount of timber harvesting, the leasing of land for oil and gas drilling, mineral rights and other such details. Outside the rural West, most such decisions are made by private landowners or by state and local governments. In the West, Washington acts as if it knows best.”
And they don’t do a very good job of it, as those in the West can attest — massive wildfires, long delayed mining permits, grazing fees and water rights jerked about, roads closed at a bureaucratic whim.
Since I first read Nelson’s article in March there has been a quote that has stuck in my mind that illustrates the audacity and presumptuousness and disdain of Washington for its Western states. With so much of the land — 85 percent of Nevada for instance — controlled by the federal government, how can we be called states at all.
The quote in Nelson’s piece came from still another prof, Sally Fairfax of UC Berkeley, who has observed that the creation of national forests established “a relationship between the national government and the Western states that is usefully described as colonial.”
How appropriate, I thought. We are colonies, not states.
Only it is worst than that. In her book “Wealth of a nation to be: The American colonies on the eve of the Revolution,” Alice Hanson Jones writes:
“Land in the colonies by 1774 was virtually all privately owned except for such things as some remaining ‘common lands’ in New England owns, sites of courthouses, town halls, jails, churches, customs houses.”
Even the nation against whom we fought a revolution did not have the audacity to control so much land.
Is not repetition the best form of emphasis? Keep up the good work!
Thank you kindly, though I suspect it is a futile gesture.
I routinely have some extreme notions despite knowing that I am less than a voice in the wilderness but today, while watching Obama and his wife at Memorial day ceremonies, it occurred to me that we, as a nation, have allowed men, mere mortal men, to become godlike. Obama, a prime example, was elected to the highest office in the land despite questionable credentials and a total absence of experience in leadership; election and title notwithstanding, the position is a job requiring far more than he brought to it. We elevated him, 100 senators, and 435 representatives, each a common individual with nothing especially innate, to run the government and nation according to longstanding laws, rules and regulation, yet they become more than ever intended, they become the office they hold. Obama is king and the rest are princes and princesses making us their subjects and the nation is their realm. Mr. Mitchell speaks of western states but Nevada and the others are largely federal reservations, not in the context/examples of military and Indian reservations, although those are included, they are land areas ruled by federal fiat. Citizens of Nevada dwell in a small percentage of the area comprising what is called a state; we can mock small states, RI, NJ, etal, all we want but they have more space allotted to private ownership than we can dream of. We have counties larger than those states but the boundaries are merely arbitrary lines through federal land. Nevada is a federal bastion, the percentage allotted to private ownership would be even less if roadways, e.g., the Interstates and US highways, were deducted to say nothing of the waterways, and wetlands, and their shores, all ruled from Washington. (I add most of these people don’t even pronounce Nevada correctly – but they rule it. )
Remember the guy with church camp who was flooded out? That was the plan when they diverted the stream. To rid the area of private land holdings, Vernon.
When Harry Reid’s home in Searchlight is declared a national monument, it will deduct even more land area. They need to erect signs, “On such and such date in 19whatever Harry Reid shot a bunny for the family supper”, and “Harry Reid went to grade school here, mean kids called him Pinky”.
I sit here, in my 6th decade, and wonder how all of this could transpire? Were the teachers that taught me civics and history, really THAT bad? Could they possibly have had an agenda that was counter to our founding fathers?
And what was I doing all these years? I’m naive enough to have believed cutting taxes (in 1981) would “starve the beast” and have our congress reign in the spending! And just what year did I admit that was a fallacy?
The BIG question is “whither do we go now?” This entitlement mentality (that pervades ALL people of the US) has to be reversed. But NO ONE wants to surrender power. Out of the ashes, rises the phoenix. (but who’s going to volunteer to become the ashes?)
Athos, you mention “Civics”, I recall when the title of that class was changed to “social studies”, I was too young to catch the significance at the time but later realized the reason for the change, yep, got us used to saying and thinking “social” and “socialism”, and here we are, 6 or 7 decades later and we are living their dream. No phoenix will rise but practitioners of change do, it takes a century, at least, to change a culture, those that commence the change don’t live to see the end of it but the practitioners multiply, who would have thought FDR’s first steps towards socialism would be followed by the likes of LBJ and now Barack Hussein Obama?
What is puzzling, Vernon, is it started with Woodrow Wilson. But after Wilson came Harding, perhaps the greatest president (from a fiscally conservative viewpoint) in the past 150 years. He died and Silent Cal took over. So, for 8 years, socialism was stopped, but that birthed Hoover, who in turn birthed FDR; and the promise of Utopia was too strong for them to resist.
I fear, as a nation, we are too weak to withstand true deprivation. My parents were born into it, while I was born into the land of plenty (and through my own actions, experienced privation that corrected my errant behavior).
I pray for a revival for our nation. Our constitution will not work for anything other than a moral people. Getting rid of all the lawyers would be a good start! And Nevada owning it’s own land (as opposed to our masters in DC) would definitely bring about a rebirth of States Rights.
If the land is so valuable, and if, as Mr. Mitchell says, Daniel Webster was correct in advocating that it be sold, make us an offer and we will consider it How much are you willing to pay?
“Vernon Clayson” and “Athos” express the core conservative viewpoint: America has been sliding into socialism for the past 99 years, and Social Security and Medicare are the most egregious examples of evil socialism to date.
Of course, I disagree with that viewpoint, but at least they honestly express what conservative politicians believe but don”t have the courage to say in public.
You don’t volunteer to become the ashes. You get press ganged.
Yes, Petey, Joe Heck apologized for correctly calling Social Security a Ponzi scheme.
Let the market set the price. I can’t afford any.
A Ponzi scheme that has managed to operate for more than 75 years.
Some might consider that a remarkable record.
Others would say that three-quarter century record of operation refutes the very notion of a Ponzi scheme.
When you pay dividends with money from new “investors” it is a Ponzi scheme by definition. When you run out of “investors” the jig is up.
The idea that Social Security has been a Ponzi scheme since 1935 is self-evidently absurd.
A Ponzi scheme lasts longer when you can take money at the point of a gun.
I suppose by Mr. Mitchell’s definition any government social insurance system of any actuarial configuration in any country constitutes a Ponzi scheme.
No, those that actually invest the money can be sound. Harry once called the spending of the SS trust fund embezzlement, but he’s changed his tune.
Oh, so because the trust fund surplus has historically been invested in US government obligations backed up by the full faith and credit of the federal government, the system is a Ponzi scheme.
It has not been invested. It has been spent.
It has been invested in the continuing growth of the American economy, the success of which in the post-Great Depression decades has vindicated the original and continuing actuarial calculations.
Remember the rest of the worlds manufacturing base was all but destroyed by WWII. The USA was the defacto manufacturer for the world. This was the case until just the last 20 to 30 years and is the reason SSC and Medicare were able to float for so long. This is coming to its inevitable end.
Wait until I tell Grandma.
And so do the kids.
petey, you’re such a tool.