States’ Rights to their Land


You are probably not aware of this, but the federal government owns more than fifty percent of all lands in the Western states. The most egregious example is Nevada, where the federal government owns about 81 percent of all of the land (compared to only one percent of the land in Nebraska). Why should that be? There is no justification in the Constitution for the federal government to own that much land, or no practical reason either. So instead, the land should revert to the states, which would be free to administer it themselves or, better yet , to auction it off to private interests. Why would private ownership be preferable to public? That can be answered by asking another question: who takes better care of a house, an owner or a renter? Similarly, who takes better care of pasture or grazing land, an owner or someone who leases it? The answer to those questions is obvious. Public ownership yields to bureaucracies and politics, which innately involve cronyism and the less efficient allocation of scarce resources. Private ownership results most often in the most optimal and productive use of the land, which certainly can be recreational or even maintaining it as wildlands.

Just to be clear, we are not talking about national parks, national forests or military reservations. But virtually all of the land administered by the Bureau of Land Management should either be returned to the states, or sold at public auction. Of course, the land could be sold subject to restrictions, where appropriate, against the clear-cutting of forests or strip mining the earth. But not only would this reduce the administrative costs and politics, it would also generate more local control and property taxes for the states. For example, the American Land Council cites statistics that the federal government loses 27 cents for every dollar it spends on administration of these lands, but the states on average generate $14.54 for every dollar they spend. And, innately, this is a question of Liberty. The federal government should neither be our lord, nor our landlord, nor a privileged class in our society. The privileged class should be “We the People.”

Judge Jim Gray (Ret.)
2012 Libertarian candidate for Vice President, along with
Governor Gary Johnson as the candidate for President