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Wednesday, January 27, 2016


James Surowiecki has an interesting piece in the New Yorker ( that discusses the history of land ownership in the Northwest. The Bundy folks in their quaint cowboy hats have the spirit right, but the history and economics all wrong, in my opinion.

To suggest as they do that federal land be returned to private ownership is being disingenuous since the and was never in private hands. It was taken from the Northern Paiute Indians. When settlers began encroaching and using Paiute reservation land, the reservation was closed and the Indians forcibly removed to a different reservation in Washington. If the land were to be taken away from the feds it should be given back to the Paiute Indians. Land that did move into private hands was because the Homestead Act permitted the federal government to give land to settlers. Technically, it was never in private hands so land, if anything, should be reverting to the federal government, not the other way around.

But these guys are not really interested in that. They want the land for themselves, no one else. Surowieki points out that if the land were given to the states, it would raise taxes in those states because state land use fees are higher than federal and the states would have to pay for upkeep they avoid now. The states currently benefit from tourism on those lands.

"The libertarian appeal of the “take back the land” rhetoric masks a fundamental contradiction: the West has flourished because of the federal government’s help, not in spite of it. No region’s economy has depended more on subsidies and taxpayer-funded investment. In the nineteenth century, the Homestead Act handed out free land to settlers, and the transcontinental railroad was built thanks to cheap land grants and huge government outlays. The federal government has played a vital role in managing the Western watershed, while investing billions of dollars in dams and other public infrastructure. As the historian Gerald Nash has shown, the West’s postwar boom was jump-started by money the government poured into the region during the Second World War."

Another good source: and
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