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America sold out

By Henry Lamb
web posted December 6, 2004

For nearly 200 years, governments in America rarely bought private property, except "...for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dock-yards, and other needful buildings," as specified in the U.S. Constitution. In the last 30 years, however, all governments - federal, state, and local, - have gone on a buying spree, gobbling up land everywhere, to protect and preserve, which, incidentally, is not one of the purposes authorized by the Constitution.

Why has this change in acquisition policy come about, and what are the long term consequences?

The change in policy coincides with the rise of the environmental movement in the '60s and '70s. The idea that government should own and control all the land emerged in 1976 from the U.N. Conference on Human Settlements (HABITAT I), that met in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The conference report contained 65 pages of specific recommendations for government to acquire, or control private property. The preamble to the report says:

"Land...cannot be treated as an ordinary asset, controlled by individuals and subject to the pressures and inefficiencies of the market. Private land ownership is also a principal instrument of accumulation and concentration of wealth and therefore contributes to social injustice; if unchecked, it may become a major obstacle in the planning and implementation of development schemes. The provision of decent dwellings and healthy conditions for the people can only be achieved if land is used in the interests of society as a whole. Public control of land use is therefore indispensable...."

Several of the same environmental organizations that helped shape this policy through the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, launched domestic campaigns to get government to buy, or regulate private property.

The Nature Conservancy announced its program to save America's "Last Great Places," and began buying up vast stretches of private real estate, often with grants from tax payers. Other organizations promoted state and local campaigns to buy up "open space" to prevent urban sprawl.

In two separate sessions of Congress, these same environmental organizations promoted legislation to set aside $3 billion each year for 18 years, expressly for the purpose of buying private property. Opponents were able to seriously weaken these efforts, but nevertheless, each year, more and more local, state, and federal tax dollars are being used to buy private property.

Simultaneously, increasingly restrictive land use planning, zoning, and regulatory control laws have also been adopted by every level of government.

The consequences of these efforts are now being felt across the land. In Big Sur, California for example, more than 70-percent of the land is publicly owned. The price of land has skyrocketed to the point that life-long residents have been forced to move away, and property taxes are confiscatory.

Increasing property tax is one of the first consequences of excessive government ownership. The cost of government does not decrease, but the number of property owners who must pay the costs, does decrease, thereby forcing the remaining property owners to pay a higher rate, in both taxes and fees.

Even more important is the long-term consequence. Currently, governments own about 42-percent of the total land area in the U.S. Land trusts own an additional, unknowable, amount of land. Fast-forward fifty years. At the current rate of "preservation," governments, and land trusts will own most of the land, and by 2100, private property will be a distant memory.

In this new world, people will have to live on property that is owned by the government - or a land trust. Farmers will have to farm land that is owned by the government - or a land trust. Industry will have to operate using resources that are owned by the government - or a land trust.

Get the picture? He who owns the land, controls its use - and gathers its wealth.

Sadly, many people are eager to sell their land, or the use of their land through easements, to the government - or to a land trust. These buyers have no shortage of money, and can offer tax breaks that private buyers cannot. Consequently, America is being sold out.

Every new land acquisition appropriation in Washington, or at the state and local level moves America closer and closer to that socialist utopia described in the 1976 U.N. document, which declares that "Public control of land use is therefore indispensable...."

Henry Lamb is the executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO), and chairman of Sovereignty International.

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