A Wall Street Journal editorial of July 10th lays out what the House Democrats’ most recent socialist scheme (H.R.3195 – Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act) is all about. In June, the Democrats who sit on the House Natural Resources Committee passed H.R.3195, which is currently winding its way through the House. This bill mandates permanent funding of $900 million to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) each year. This would be a whopping two and a half times greater than the Fund’s average annual expenditures over the past 15 years. Just what does the LWCF do? The Fund was created in 1964. It is primarily funded by federal oil and gas drilling royalties. Its main activity has been to gobble up private land (read: nationalize) and put it under government ownership, management, and political control. Among other things, this means that the newly nationalized lands will be poorly managed.
The government’s poor land management practices should come as no surprise. After all, Adam Smith diagnosed the problems associated with government ownership of land in his classic treatise, the Wealth of Nations (1776). Smith concluded that “no two characters seem more inconsistent than those of the trader and the sovereign” since people are more prodigal with the wealth of others than with their own. In that vein, he estimated that lands owned by the state were only about 25% as productive as comparable private holdings. Smith believed Europe’s great tracts of crown lands to be “a mere waste and loss of country in respect both of produce and population.”
As the Wall Street Journal indicated, the Democrats in the House are not the only ones who favor more nationalization, political control, and bureaucratic management of land. For example, two Republicans are on board: Colorado Senator Cory Gardner and Montana Senator Steve Daines.
What a difference a few decades make. Indeed, it brings back memories of my work with President Reagan and Nevada’s late, legendary Senator Paul Laxalt in the early 1980s, when I served on President Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers. It was then that President Reagan tasked me with the job of developing a program for the privatization of federal lands. Reagan was in an anti-socialist sell mode, not a socialist buy mode.
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