Confronting Our Legacy of Incongruous Land Ownership: Notes for a Research Agenda
19 Pages Posted: 11 Dec 2006
The railroad checkerboards and the checkerboard reservations are extreme but emblematic examples of our history of ownership. In the west, land ownership has regularly been employed as a tool of government policy. To further goals articulated in the halls of Congress, and to a much lesser degree in statehouses, our governments have been willing to buy land, sell land, sell land cheaply and give land away. At the same time, in furtherance of the same goals or related ones, our governments have been willing to deprive long time possessors and recognized legal owners of some or all of their rights to land with compensation, with limited compensation and without any compensation at all. The property ownership manipulations of the past two centuries seem breathtakingly arrogant. The property rights have outlasted the policies they were designed to support.
An obvious candidate for "agent of positive change" - a necessary but not sufficient condition for a solution - is the land trust community. These are people who transfer property rights in the interest of preserving environmental, historical and cultural value.
But wait a second! Rather than being "part of the solution" isn't the land trust community actually "part of the problem"? Their activities - authorized and shaped by state and federal statute and subsidized by state and federal tax law or tax revenue - can be seen as another example of transitory government priorities manipulating perpetual property rights.
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