main forestland large landowner feudal pakistan elite

Feudalism in Pakistan, Communalism in Uganda
debt bondage tenant farmers communally owned

The New Biggest US Landowner Has How Much?

How many acres does the biggest US landholder own? How few Pakistanis own the most and best land? How do Ugandans settle land disputes? We trim, blend, and append three 2011 articles from: (1) Bangor Daily News, Feb 4, on Maine by K. Miller; and from IRIN on Feb 17 on (2) Pakistan and (3) Uganda.

by Kevin Miller and by IRIN

A Colorado billionaire who has had a major hand in the way Americans have watched, and paid for, television in recent decades, now, thanks to his purchase of about 1 million acres of Maine forestland, is vying for a new title: the nation’s largest individual landowner.

A company set up by John Malone, BBC Land LLC, closed on the sale of about 1 million acres of commercial timberland in Maine and an additional 23,000 acres in neighboring New Hampshire.

A Connecticut native, Malone got involved in cable television in the early 1970s when the industry was still largely in its infancy. He served as president and CEO of Tele-Communications Inc. from 1973 to 1996, helping TCI grow from a small western outfit to the nation’s largest cable company. TCI merged with AT&T in 1999 in a deal valued at more than $40 billion.

Forbes Magazine ranked Malone No. 110 on the magazine’s most recent annual listing of America’s 400 richest people, with a personal wealth valued at $3 billion.

Before the completion of the Maine deal, Malone owned an estimated 1.2 million acres nationwide. Most of that acreage was in Colorado and Wyoming. That was enough to earn him the No. 5 spot on a list of the largest private landowners in America last year.

But the acquisition in Maine could send Malone past another media mogul, Ted Turner, as the nation’s top land baron.

Turner and Malone are two friends who own neighboring land in New Mexico. Malone said Turner taught him a valuable financial lesson: buy land.

“He has done very well in his land investments,” Malone said. “It is sort of a lasting economic asset; and if you like conservation, you sort of can do well by doing good.”

To see the entire article, click here .

JJS: Owning land turns a profit for the owner not just by ranching cattle or logging timber. There’s also the tax breaks for both extractions and for conservation. Ironically, instead of paying landowners, government should be charging them rent, since nobody made land and everybody makes land value. At the same time, government should not be taxing anyone’s earnings, since that is a value one does generate by exerting labor or investing capital.

Speaking of which, how much capital would the Malones of the world have to invest if government did not give away the airwaves and cable monopolies? Say government did charge the full annual rental value of the EM spectrum and utility franchises. Then nobody’s fortune would be big enough to be able to claim well over a million acres of nature’s best.

In this aspect of letting a few own a lot, to do with as they see fit, the US is no different from elsewhere, including poor, undeveloped, traditional regions.

The floods that covered many fields, houses, and roads last summer uncovered how powerful feudal families -- in many cases linked to the political and bureaucratic elite -- have been accused of influencing decisions regarding the diversion of floodwater or the breach of over-flowing dams to protect their own land while flooding those of impoverished -- and powerless -- villagers.

Vast estates belonging to feudal families stretch out across the country, sometimes covering hundreds of acres. About 2% of households control more than 45% of the total area. Large farmers have also monopolized subsidies in water and agriculture.

“In a country where about half the workforce is engaged in agriculture, the key to improving lives is an end of feudalism. No one should own more than 12 acres [4.86 hectares] of agriculture land,” said Farooq Tariq, spokesman for the Labour Party of Pakistan.

“Throughout Pakistan, millions of peasants are working on land they do not own, giving between half and two-thirds of their crops to landlords. Workers often end up tied to the land, after taking a loan from a landowner and offering to pay it back by working. Sometimes whole families end up in this type of debt bondage, working to pay off a loan on which the interest keeps accumulating.”

Andro Shilakadze, a senior UNICEF field officer in Sindh, said, “The women of Sindh province have suffered like this for thousands of years. Women work hard in the fields and in their homes. They receive only what is left of the food after the rest of the family has eaten. Men are served first, then the children and then the women last of all.”.

“Ownership of land can quickly break the poverty cycle,” Tariq said. “We have seen examples of this in places where tenant farmers have taken control of land.”

Historically speaking, land reform has been held back by the fact that many parliamentarians are themselves big landowners.

To see the entire article, click here .

JJS: Instead of feudalism (that the US Government supports), some places have, communal lands. They might not have had much output but at least no tiny minority deprived everyone else.

In Lakang village, Amuru district, recent clashes left 1,500 households unsure of ownership of a 103 sqkm area. Such disputes have affected 1.7 million people, 80% of northern Uganda’s population. Land in Acholi sub-region is communally owned and elders were influential in settling any disputes but most have not survived.

In December, seven Lakang villagers sustained machete cuts in a fight. Women in the area have also been victimized. "Here you can’t go for firewood in the nearby forest alone, you need some men to escort you for your safety,” said Catherine Abalo.

Amuru Resident District Commissioner Milton Odongo said, "A dialogue will be convened involving the conflicting clans. What they need to understand is that the only way to do away with these conflicts is to have development so that people are occupied.”

Too see the whole article, click here .

JJS: One way to settle disputes that has worked elsewhere is: owners pay rent to neighbors (typically via a land tax). Having to pay land dues, owners take no more than they can use. And the most talented users outbid others, so the amount of rent for public revenue is greater, enabling better social programs or residential dividends or both. Such is the power of geonomics.


Editor Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.

Also see:

Malawi villagers move for new school, gift from pop star

Absentee Ownership -- biggest worry about land

Is Alaska's ex-governor right about taxing polluters?

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