Here is an idea from 1982 whose time has come.
Writing at Forbes magazine online today, Steve Hanke, a one-time senior economist on President Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers, resurrects an idea he broached 36 years ago — sell off federal grazing lands with the first right of refusal going to current grazing permit holders.
Hanke says Reagan endorsed the idea, as did then-U.S. Sen. and Reagan confidant Paul Laxalt. He quotes Laxalt as saying:
Before we proceed any further, let me tell you where I stand. I believe a need does exist to sell some of our excess public lands. However, I intend to do all in my power to protect existing public land users from being “locked out.” To this end, I endorse a proposal developed by Dr. Steve Hanke, a senior economist on the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, that deals with the protection of existing grazing rights which, I believe, can serve as a model for protecting miners as well. Basically, Dr. Hanke has proposed that ranchers currently holding grazing permits be given the right to purchase, on a first refusal basis, the public grazing permits that they currently rent from the BLM.
Hanke says the federal government should stop renting grazing land — a process by which the government loses 91 cents an acre — and sell it at a profit.
The question now is: what would be the benefits associated with this privatization proposal?
First, the productivity of federal grazing lands would increase.
Second, federal revenues would be generated. Instead of receiving annual grazing fees, the federal government would receive an equivalent lump-sum payment.
Third, the annual federal costs (and these do not include, as they should, capital carrying charges) exceed the annual revenues generated from federal grazing lands. Therefore, privatization would eliminate negative cash flows for the federal government. This would obviously benefit all U.S. taxpayers, who must now pay taxes to support the federal government’s retention of public grazing lands.
Lastly, a state and local property tax base would be created. Western dependence on Washington, D.C. would be reduced and federalism would be enhanced.
Sounds like a winning proposition, especially for taxpayers.