What should the government own?

By Nathan Barton

I recently found this fascinating quote.

I don’t see any justification for the federal government owning land, other than the Statue of Liberty and maybe a few parks, maybe a few refuges. But to just own land to do nothing with it I think is a disservice to the Constitution. – Don Young

Don Young is the congresscrittur for Alaska (they’ve only got the one) – and has served 22 terms: he was in the Army when I was a small child.  He is a member of the GOP, somewhat similar to the way Ron Paul and Rand Paul are – a minarchist, if not an anarchist.

Based on this quote alone, he is a very tiny minority in the US House of Representatives. I suspect even the most liberal (and most conservative) of his comrades in Congress would scream loudly against this sort of comment.

But I (and I believe, many of our readers here at The Price of Liberty) don’t think this is so radical.  He doesn’t go nearly far enough.

Why does the FedGov need to own ANY monuments – the Statue of Liberty or anything else?  Indeed, the FedGov has demonstrated time after time that they are completely incompetent at protecting anything of value: especially land and structures. Now, maybe we don’t want to give the Statue of Liberty to the City of New York or even the State of New York – they are, after all, governments.  And again, demonstrate time after time how incompetent they are at doing almost ANYthing.

But why not use the example of some other very important historical sites and monuments?

Consider Williamsburg, Virginia.  The Commonwealth’s capital for 81 years, scene of many important incidents leading up to and in the American War of Independence (and Secession from the British Empire), is a very important historical landmark.  And it is owned and operated by a private foundation, Colonial Williamsburg: NOT by government. And has been for 80+ years.

Or look a few miles away to Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home.  It is owned – gasp! – by women!  Specifically, the Mount Vernon Ladies Association. And has been since 1859.  After the person who inherited it was unable to afford to maintain it and sold it to them.  Because both the FedGov and the Commonwealth of Virginia did not want to buy it.  So for almost 160 years, this place has been privately owned and NOT sold to some advertiser or some developer or some other less-than-desirable type person.

And “some parks” and “some refuges?”  Don may be pandering to the lovers of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Mount McKinley.  The track record of the FedGov on parks and refuges is no better than on monuments.  Indeed, the feds have often completely failed to protect these places, letting them be overrun by ignoring the benefit (and power) of the marketplace, and then stealing money paid by users of those sites to pay for welfare, including “defense” and “education.” Consider the sad state of virtually every urban “national park” and “national seashore” and major parks like Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Rocky Mountain.

Indeed, many modern national parks started out as private ventures, and were preserved and protected only by private effort and development. Only to be taken over by the FedGov. Farmers, ranchers, paper companies (with their private forests), and voluntary associations of hunters and fishers do as much to preserve land and promote wildlife habitat as any federal agency. Or more. And in some cases (consider the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, and Skyline Drive along the Shenandoah), the FedGov actually seized the land (yes, paying for it after the fact) to create the national park “for the people.”

State and local governments all have multiple similar examples of incompetent management and failed protection.

As with everything else, government cannot be entrusted with land.

Don’s last point IS important, even if he is willing to let the government keep too much as far as monuments, parks, and refuges.

Supposedly the land is “preserved” by government for the benefit of future generations.  But more and more it seems that the “future generation” is always the next one.  The original purpose was not “preservation” but “conservation” – but that backfired. Thus ensuring that the tragedy of the commons (since something that belongs to everyone in reality belongs to nobody) not only continues but is made worse. What could be productive land, benefiting people in many ways, instead becomes a drain on the entire economy, excusing more and more parasites on the body politic, consuming rather than producing resources.

The solution is private ownership: by individuals, companies (for-profit and non-profit), voluntary associations, and the like. Coupled with an end to taxation that makes it impossible, all too often, for land to stay in private hands and hands which see the land as something to be used, but also to be cherished and conserved for their descendants.

(For anyone interested in reading more of Don Young’s thoughts, go to Brainy Quote.)

About TPOL Nathan

Follower of Christ Jesus (a christian), Pahasapan (resident of the Black Hills), Westerner, Lover of Liberty, Free-Market Anarchist, Engineer, Army Officer, Husband, Father, Historian, Writer, Evangelist. Successor to Lady Susan (Mama Liberty) at TPOL.
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3 Responses to What should the government own?

  1. Darkwing says:

    The federal government does not own land, monuments, etc; The land is owned by the American people, the government is the care taker of the land and a poor care taker. I use to work for the Dept of Interior. The federal government owns a lot of federal buildings, military bases. In the mid 70’s, there was the sagebrush rebellion. The state of NV wanted all federal land transfered to the state. Other states joined the fight, it went no where


    • TPOL Nathan says:

      Yes, supposedly and legally the land belongs to “The People,” but defacto is owned by the FedGov: which I know you are very much aware of, Darkwing. When “everyone” owns something – held in “common” – really, no one owns it and the government (fed or state or local) is the “agent” for their citizens. History has shown what a sweet deal that is – for one side.
      Similar situation with tribal land, which is supposedly owned by the AmerInd tribe (or individual enrolled members of it) but held “in trust” for the owners. Which means that the BIA, a federal agency, in reality acts as (and is, for practical purposes) the owner.
      The FedGov usurped the power (“rights”) of the various states, in a series of slow but sure steps. The Sagebrush Rebellion was too little, too late.
      Not the first time in history that has happened.


  2. N S says:

    What should the government own is described in the US Constitution, Article 1, section 8. It defines just what government has control of and can make laws regarding. NO more! The remaining powers for governance are to be left to the States and the People.


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