What high school students think...Need more federal land, or not?

By Floy Lilley, J.D.
for eco-logic


Catherine Anderson, a senior at a Dallas, Texas, high school is unaware that it was her selection of a particular quote that won for her $1250.00 in a national scholarship contest. The quote? "To break the link between the market and property owner is to destroy the ability to calculate and to best allocate the resource." In other words, free enterprise yields valid information, and socialism fails, simply because it is stupid.

Ideas, do indeed, have consequences, and the sponsors of this annual contest have never shied away from heady economic and philosophical ideas. Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers' Auxiliary and the American Land Foundation invite primarily seniors from public, private and home schools to write letters to their Washington, D.C., Senators expressing views upon selected topics. The 2002 topic for which Catherine wrote the First Place letter was Does the Federal Government need to own more land?

Four hundred sixty young adults living in forty-six different states had much to say about Federal land ownership. Fully 75% wrote letters asking Congressmen to limit and reduce acreage owned by the Federal government. Entrants' supporting arguments focused primarily upon the link between freedom and ownership, as shown in these selected comments:

"...land should be given back to private owners for improved care and long-term economic stability."

"...The dichotomy between personal liberties and property rights is a false one. Property does not have rights. People have rights. The right to enjoy property without unlawful deprivation, no less than the right to speak or the right to travel, is in truth, a 'personal' right, whether the 'property' in question be a welfare check, a home, or a savings account. In fact, a fundamental interdependence exists between the personal right to liberty and the personal right in property. Neither could have meaning without the other. That rights in property are basic civil rights, has long been recognized."

"...our public lands are poorly managed, environmentally unsound, failing financially, and stifling of productivity."

"...the rate at which private property is being either acquired by government, or placed under government control, is nothing less than a landslide -- a landslide to socialism."

"...socialism is government ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods."

"...a backlog of maintenance problems on public lands ... exceeds $12 billion [1999]."

"...Congress has adopted a command-and-control system that has resulted in the wasting of valuable resources, the depletion of local economies, and the regulatory taking of private properties... "

"...The truth is, massive federal ownership with its accompanying laws, regulations, and policies, is destroying the custom, culture, and economic stability of America."

"...the theory of Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: the abolition of private property."

"...private property ownership, including the right to use the property and to exclude others from it, is one of the fundamental principles of freedom that has made America ..."

"...private ownership of land is the only way to forge long-term solutions to resource use, open space, traffic and all the other problems that confront a growing civilization."

"...I feel that there is a point where government regulation to provide safety and fairness overwhelms the efficiency of the market."

"...socialism isn't efficient."

"...the private citizens of the nation own less than 50% of the nation's resource base."

" To get a picture of the future in America, look at the past in Russia - where the government owned all the land."

A handful of entrants took the same position that federal land holdings needed to be reduced, but for a strange reason. The writers worried that the government would not be getting enough revenue.

"...Taxes are how the government makes the most money and when approximately forty percent of the land is government owned, that land cannot be taxed and therefore, a large amount of possible revenue is lost."

A few thought the topic was whether or not the United States should buy other countries.

"...it would be looked upon as an aggressive approach by the United States federal government, which is not favorable."

"...do this instead of buying new land from other countries..."

Finally, 116 entrants of the 460 total urged greater acquisition of federal land, not less. Their letters display youthful idealism without understanding either economics or history. A smattering of their illogic follows:

"...Landowners really don't serve any purpose; we don't get anything in return for the rent that we give them. We are forced to live under their wishes, when there is a better way. If land is leased out and the incoming money is distributed equally among the citizens, this could be used to abolish income tax and whoever needed land would have a chance..."

"... for when the United States owns the land, we as a nation can decide what happens to it."

"...federal ownership of land preserves our way of life and protects lives by preventing unnecessary pollution. It also helps support thousands of jobs for farmers and ranchers."

" Lands that are not controlled by the federal government, however, have no regulations or licensing. Here the forest is at the mercy of the companies that own them, and can potentially be destroyed with no hope of regeneration. Furthermore we can not produce any profits from this type of neglect. It is an entire waste, and depressing destruction of our land. We cannot allow this to happen."

"... increase government acreage because private landowners are under no obligation to lease their property to farmers or ranchers...private landowners are under no obligation to construct public facilities such as parks, national monuments, and wild life preserves...private landowners are under no obligation to maintain their property in a natural state.."

"...if the federal government owned more land, I believe the land would be used more to benefit the people of the community...rather than make a lot of money.."

"...the federal government needs to own more land in order to produce oil resources for the future."

"...Government ownership of land guarantees appropriate use, while private ownership leads to personal exploitation."

"...by creating added government jobs within park systems and by aiding farmers with government land, America will be assisted in returning to economic prosperity."

"...government should own more land if we...are to strive for sustainable development....Absolute property rights destroy the opportunity for sustainable development, because private land is intensively used for maximization of profit."

"...the most extensive biodiversity is found in federal land."

"...federal government would be more apt to respond to the needs of the people and the environment. I feel that private ownership of land is becoming obsolete. Though easements can help preserve private ownership of land, the places would not be accessible to the public at all times."

"...I believe the federal government should own more land because its ownership of land contributes to the vitality and economic strength of local communities and to our national economy."

"...Government land should be available for those who are less fortunate.."

"...greedy businessmen need to be held in check somehow to stop them from ruining our scenic countryside in order to develop more areas, just for their profit."

"...public land ownership serves the country well through its contributions to the economy and the environment, and therefore the federal government should continue to acquire land whenever possible."

"...private ownership benefits only a few whereas government owned lands benefit the majority."

"...the federal government uses their land to help the people. They do not have a lot of land."

"...government land ownership is an extension of land and protection for the entire public. It is government then, which should occupy the largest territory ensuring farmers adequate land to feed not only American citizens, but in order to stay true to democratic ideals, aid and nourish the entire world."

"...If the government owns more land, then we would be able to have more military facilities, non-profit organizations, low income housing and many more contributions that will help the people of the United States."

"...when the government owns the land, the people control the outcome, under our democratic system. This provides for an outcome more likely to benefit the common good than the landowner."

"...the government should own more land...to help farmers, because the farmers would get paid to grow different crops and raise a variety of different animals by the government, but would still have the luxury of living the Urban lifestyle. The farmers are, therefore, always guaranteed money from the government to start out the crops they intend to grow and to purchase the animals they plan to keep on their farm. So technically, if their crops do not grow or produce throughout their farm and their animals do not reproduce or die, they do not lose anything because the government is paying for everything, the farmers are just doing the work."

"...the government owns a mere 31.1% of the landmass in the United States. That leaves 68.9% of our precious lands open to abuse and neglect by private owners."

Catherine Anderson won this contest because she showed that she understands both the economics of human action and the philosophy of liberty in the Republic known as these United States. Congratulations, Catherine.


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