Private Ownership vs. Public “Ownership”

In his letter to the editor praising the legislation passed by President Clinton “protecting” 1.7 million acres in Utah from development, William H. Meadows of the Wilderness Society claims that this and similar acts of legislation have made each individual US citizen an “owner” of 623 million acres of land. Using this same reasoning, if the government were to forcibly expropriate all land and private property, he could claim that each citizen would then own all the land and property in the entire country.

 Of course, when a government expropriates property, whether in the case of the US government expropriating a piece of land or a Communist government expropriating an entire economy, the exact opposite is true: each citizen becomes completely deprived of the prerogatives of ownership, and is left economically powerless to determine how the land, or any other commodity, is used.

Mr. Meadows also says that US citizens have a “duty” to the unborn to use the coercive powers of the state to prohibit the development of various wildernesses by special economic “interests.” In fact, the citizens of a free country have no unchosen duties to the unborn. The government of a free country, on the other hand, does have a moral and political obligation to protect the economic rights of its living citizens. In the case in question, this means that the US government has an obligation to sell off its vast land holdings in the West and in Alaska so that they can be put to whatever use the citizens most desire.

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