By Kevin Cahill.
The Queen, the family of the actress Nicole Kidman, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and the media tycoon Ted Turner are just some of the most powerful global landowners.
The world relative to its human population is quite large. It is 123 billion acres in size, of which 37 billion acres are land. This means that there are a notional four acres available for every man, woman and child in the predicted 2050 world population 0f nine billion, which would be an increase of two billion on the present population. But notional is not real, and what is noticeable when looking at how the 37 billion acres are used by nature and humanity is that the urban area, humanity’s footprint on the land patch, is extremely small, at 1.5 per cent. This conflicts with the common rhetoric of environmentalists, which too often comes fact-free.
Land use has historically tended to follow claims to ownership, defined as the right to the use of and disposal of land. The relationship between humans and land begins with a fundamental claim by some people or countries to “own” land. On that basis, the world divides into two simple categories: those countries that allow citizens to own the land to which they hold legal title and those that grant only tenancies to their citizens, permitting the state to claim a total prior right to the use of all land within its borders.
Those countries that allow their people to own the land to which they hold legal title are among the most economically successful – such as the United States, Germany and France. Those operating what is essentially a feudal or pre-feudal system, in which the state or monarch claims legal rights to all land, tend to be less developed, with rare exceptions such as the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
The latter category, in which citizens cannot own land legally, is dominated by one of the oddest situations on earth: the legal ownership by a single individual of all land in a number of countries and the consequent downgrading of all citizens of those countries to the status of feudal vassals in relation to land.
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