Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The people own all the land


Not to sound communistic, but, in many countries, all the land is owned by the people who live in that country. This is true in the U.S.

To use the U.S. as an example, land is obtained in several ways, and then it is "put in trust" for the people by the government. The government then decides who can use the land. The main thing to remember is that the government can take the land back at any time if it wants to use it for some public purpose. In recent years, the courts in the U.S. have been illegally legislating on this issue (illegal because they don't have the right to legislate, but they do anyway) by taking land from private citizens and giving it to private land developers.

Some of the ways the U.S. came to own the land (theoretically in the name of all the people) include

1. Taking it from previous owners by war (war-ending treaties or driving them off the land)
2. Getting it deeded to them by English, French and Spanish kings who owned by control
3. Buying it from previous owners
4. Having the previous owners deed over the land due to various other treaties

The government then begins to parcel out the land as it sees fit: for development, homesteading, putting it in trust for certain purposes (reserves, parks, etc.) or simply affirming private ownership which had already existed. None of this giving or reserving has to be permanent. This ultimate control of the land by the government is known as "eminent domain." The ultimate top government is called the "sovereign lord" from English times.

The U.S. Constitution allows the use of eminent domain ONLY for the purpose of a public good or benefit. It is obvious to all who can read, that the constitution was talking about using land for roads and bridges and dams and the like. In other words, they are not supposed to be able to take your land just to give to a builder to build condos there because more housing may be needed in your town. But they can do that now. You can thank former Justice John Paul Stevens for that ruling. I remember there was a petition drive to confiscate his personal country farm when he retired just to let him share in the blessings of his ruling, but nothing ever came of it.

Large public works projects almost always require the exercise of eminent domain. Many landowners or people living on the land which is needed for the project are displaced (and compensated, in the U.S. version, though such compensation doesn't have to be for any amount the landowner wants.)

What does a person do when he doesn't want to move and let the government take over his land? He finds out in a hurry that the government ultimately owns all the land; he will be forcefully removed from "his" land. If he persists in blocking or hindering the project, he will be imprisoned.

15 comments:

  1. I'm not sure about eminent domain in the U.K., but we have a nasty little thing called 'Compulsory Purchase'. In other words, the government, local or national, can tell you it is taking your land, and there's not a damn thing you can do about it.

    Oh yes, you can fight them in the courts, you can write letters, lobby your Member of Parliament, but if the government wants your land for its dam, its airport, its military base, it'll get it.

    The village of Tyneham, in Dorset, is a good example.

    "It was on the bitterly cold day of 17 November 1943, as the village began its traditional preparations for the forthcoming festive season, that the Creech village postmaster delivered to every household the letters that brought the unwelcome news of evacuation. The date set for the military takeover was 19 December. By that time, nearly half of the Isle of Purbeck had been requisitioned and the gunnery ranges at Lulworth expanded. In addition, an RAF radar station sat atop the lofty Tyneham Cap; women from the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) were billeted at Tyneham House, and airmen lodged in the village. Barbed wire had become a familiar sight in the landscape, as had the tank traps along the coast.

    Villagers who had already given so much for their country (the parish had lost many young men in the Great War) patriotically did their duty and peacefully accepted the eviction, buoyed by the belief that they would be back before the hay was due to be harvested. Temporary accommodation and alternative employment were found, and gradually the village emptied.

    Within weeks, this tight-knit community had been scattered across the Isle of Purbeck, yet the people’s thoughts never strayed far from home, and most were simply marking time until the end of the war. But, sadly, the end of hostilities in 1945 did not bring about the end of their exile. Frustrated and concerned, Tyneham’s villagers wrote to the War Office, dismayed at the deteriorating condition of their cottages, the overgrown fields and shell-damaged church. As time went by, they intensified the pressure until finally, in 1947, the news broke that the parish of Tyneham-cum-Steeple was to be retained by compulsory purchase to become part of a 7,200-acre (2,880-hectare) gunnery range.

    Though impassioned protests brought about a public enquiry, a government White Paper made it clear that, while some promises might have been made regarding the eventual return of Tyneham, it was necessary for all personal considerations to be overridden by what was in the best interests of the nation. As any last hope of returning home vanished for the villagers, many were offered the chance to be rehoused at Sandford, near Wareham, in a small estate of newly built council houses known as Tyneham Close. Light and modern, with electricity and indoor plumbing, these dwellings were a world away from the draughty old stone cottages of the village, with their antiquated sanitation. A number of former Tyneham folk were quite content in their new homes, but many others, broken-hearted, never really recovered from the shock. Yet even they were eventually forced to concede that there was by now little left of the old Tyneham to move back to."

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    1. It's a sad story when something like that happens. It seems the government never retreats when it takes land. Come to think of it, though, I have an opposite story that is now happening just outside the little town I live in in NM. There has been an Army base and ammunition dump near here since the 1800s. Douglas MacArthur said he remembered playing in the dirt here back when he was a child and his father, General Arthur MacArthur was commander here, at Ft. Wingate. Anyway, the Army has now abandoned it and isgiving it back to the two Indian tribes that used to have the land a long time ago. So maybe they do retreat sometimes. Funnily, the two tribes are now arguing over who gets what. Maybe we still need the fort. :)

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  2. You know, I think I knew about this, but you helped provide me with considerable clarity on the nuances of this topic.

    Cool.

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    1. I'm slowly laying the foundation for another story. :) Thanks for reading.

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  3. I hope you will add an amendment to this piece, which makes it clear that the government is purchasing the properties that fall under eminent domain, and often at a higher price than the land owner would have received in a regular real estate transaction (at least around here). Granted, it is a forced sale, but the property is most definitely not being confiscated by the government and given away to someone they want to have it.

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    1. I'm glad to enlarge upon what I said in passing in the second to last paragraph of the post, Jerry. I assumed people knew they were offered "just compensation," per the constitution. Perhaps this is unlike other countries, but I don't think so.

      Yes, as I stated, the people are paid for their property, though not always as much as they think their historical family home is worth. :) In the end, there is a limit that will be paid, though, whatever the court decides if there is a dispute, and they WILL vacate, like it or not. That was my meaning for this post.

      We had a whole block of older homes bought out and torn down to make room for a new courthouse and parking lot here in my little town a few years ago. Nobody went to jail. Some probably got more than their old house was worth. The rest of us paid for it through our taxes. So be it.

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  4. I do remember a housing development bought out because of ground contamination from a nearby chemical plant that made the location dangerous.

    Of course, that made the property value about nil, so most were grateful to get anything, but I must admit it irked me that the EPA's superfund bought them out instead of the company that contaminated the area.

    I like responsibility.

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    1. Remember the Love Canal in New York?

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  5. Compensation?

    Sometimes there's no fair figure. Imagine a situation, like, the coal mine needs more land on which to dump its spoil, so it says, in order to continue.
    And imagine, on the land chosen, there is a farm, farmed by my great-uncle Ben, and his wife, in the family farm that I remember well as a child, with the carved shield above the door, "JC, 1640". Ben and Hannah were in their seventies, and they were offered compensation based on a valuation of the farm. But they didn't need or want money, they wanted their home, where generations of the family grew up. They wanted the farmhouse with its low-beamed rooms, the great stone-floored kitchen, the sunny porch where there was always a sleeping sheepdog and a couple of cats, the lowing of cattle coming down off the hill for milking, the ducks and geese on the pond.

    Money can't compensate for being wrenched out of the life that was familiar.

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    1. Exactly. And I don't even believe "eminent domain" should be used for that purpose; it doesn't benefit the populace in the area as a whole to let a coal mine operation override the family farm. My post was made partly because of the rampant abuse of private companies doing this. Recently, I read a story about Columbia University wanting to expand their campus for some reason or other, and, after trying to buy out the land they want without success, went to the state of New York and requested they intervene with eminent domain since the university was obviously a "public good" and benefited thousands of people. Well,that's bullshit.

      On the other hand, what if there is a genuine need - say the building of a dam - and you can't let certain people stay, even if they had been there for hundreds of years? What then? This whole thing is about "the greater good" but it must be used only when the need or good is truly genuine, Then, I say, the people must be moved. And if compensation, in kind, cannot be "just", then they might have to suffer for the good of the many. Not suffer physically, of course.

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  6. The coal mine was a 'nationalised', i.e. government-owned monopoly, so this was not quite an example of government giving to corporate interests.
    Luckily, the farm never was taken, because geological surveys changed the plan. But the threat was there, and terrible.

    North of where I live, about twenty-five miles, is a reservoir. In the valley, was a village, called West End. In 1966 the dam was completed, West End was evacuated, and I recall my dad taking us up there to watch the rising waters gradually cover the houses.

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    1. I also remember a village flooded by a dam reservoir here. In times of drought you can see the church steeple and some roofs "rise" from the water. Eerie to think of a ghost village down there. I guess it takes a long time to decay. It was flooded before I lived in NM but I have head stories of the little town from the kids of the inhabitants. The dam was needed so that was no issue. Tears, of course. The Rio Grande runs down the center of NM and, of course, is continually inhabited on both banks because the valley is fertile, so there is always some who suffer when a dam is built on it somewhere.

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    2. The Rio Grande must be carefully used for crop irrigations and recreation for those in New Mexico. If we allow too much to slip by and get to El Paso, the Texans will just waste it.

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  7. In Holland, when the government needs your land and you don't sell it voluntary, they will force you to sell it for a lower price than initially proposed. A lot of centuries old farms have been confiscated and demolished this way, because the government wanted to build office buildings. Apparently office property is a nice investment opportunity for hedge funds. Of course, since the crisis started, nobody needs extra office space anymore, and the land lies fallow ever since.

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    1. That's a shame, Rob. You hear stories like that from all over. I know it is necessary, but I think it is a law that is often abused. I know the politicians are honest in the Netherlands, but they are crooks here and you have to watch them!

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