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Why the Feds (Still) Own so Much of the Country by Steve H. Hanke

The recent “occupation” of government-owned lands in Eastern Oregon by disgruntled ranchers’ motivated Quoctrung Bui and Margot Sanger-Katz of the New York Times to produce an edifying essay on January 6th. It was aptly titled “Why the Government Owns So Much Land in the West.” Curiously, the NYT essay fails to mention one of the most significant, recent, and contentious attempts to “dispose” of federal public lands.

When Ronald Reagan was elected president for his first term in 1980, he received strong support from the so-called Sagebrush Rebels. The Rebels wanted lands owned by the federal government to be transferred to state governments. Their champion was James Watt, a self-proclaimed Sagebrush Rebel who became the Secretary of the Interior.

When I was operating as one of President Reagan’s economic advisers, an early assignment was to analyze the federal government’s landholdings and make recommendations about what to do with them. This was a big job. These lands are vast, covering an area six times that of France.

These public lands represent a huge socialist anomaly in America’s capitalist system. As is the case with all socialist enterprises, they are mismanaged by politicians and bureaucrats dancing to the tunes of narrow interest groups. Indeed, the U.S. nationalized lands represent assets that are worth trillions of dollars, yet they generate negative net cash flows for the government.

I first presented my findings and recommendations publically at the annual Public Lands Council meeting of September 1981 in Reno, Nevada. The title of my speech was “Privatize Those Lands” — privatize being a word Mrs. Hanke, a Parisian, had imported from France.

My Reno speech caused a stir. James Watt, the Secretary of the Interior, was furious because he wanted to hand over the lands to the state governments — exchanging one form of socialism for another. Needless to say, I thought I was in deep trouble. Hoping to avoid political immolation, I rapidly sent my analysis to the President.

Reagan instantly responded, taking my side. Better yet, he swiftly made my proposals the Administration’s policy. The president endorsed privatizing federal lands in his budget message for the 1983 fiscal year:

Some of this property is not in use and would be of greater value to society if transferred to the private sector. In the next three years we would save $9 billion by shedding these unnecessary properties while fully protecting and preserving our national parks, forests, wilderness and scenic areas.

reagan in his own hand book coverIt turned out that Reagan had already thought about this issue. The book Reagan, In His Own Hand (2001) makes that clear. This volume contains 259 essays Reagan wrote in his own hand, mainly scripts for his five minute, five-day-a-week syndicated radio broadcasts in the late 1970s. Reagan, In His Own Hand contains several essays on the subject that clearly foreshadowed his policy statement on privatizing public lands. His 1970s musings on public lands echo the writings of Adam Smith. While Reagan never cited Smith, he employed similar reasoning.

Indeed, Smith concluded in The Wealth of Nations (1776) that “no two characters seem more inconsistent than those of the trader and the sovereign,” as people are more prodigal with the wealth of others than with their own. In that vein, Smith 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.”

Unfortunately, political opposition — largely from ill-informed environmentalists and some Sagebrush Rebels, too — stopped Reagan from privatizing. U.S. nationalized lands remain ill-used and a constant source of dispute.

This post fist appeared at Cato.org.

Steve H. Hanke

VIDEO: Terrorist Attack in Dubai?

New Year’s revelers were sent running for their lives after a fire engulfed a five-star hotel just 500 yards from where Dubai’s spectacular fireworks display was due to begin.

The Address Downtown caught fire at about 9.30 p.m. Dubai time, with the flames appearing to reach from the ground floor up another 40-or-so stories of the 63 floor building.

Those who escaped described how people climbed over each other in their rush to escape the burning building.

One Briton was forced to carry his disabled mother on his back.

Read more.

Devout Muslim charged with setting fire to his own mosque

At the time the fire was set, it garnered much attention as a “hate crime”: “The Houston chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations called on authorities to investigate a possible bias motive in the case, citing what it called a ‘recent spike in hate incidents targeting mosques nationwide.’”

But it turns out to have been yet another fake hate crime. Islamic supremacist groups such as the Hamas-linked Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) want and need hate crimes against Muslims, because they’re the currency they use to buy power and influence in our victimhood-oriented society, and to deflect attention away from jihad terror and onto Muslims as putative victims.

Hamas-linked CAIR, designated a terror organization by the United Arab Emirates, and other Muslims have on many occasions not hesitated to stoop even to fabricating “hate crimes,” including attacks on mosques. Most notably, in February, a New Jersey Muslim was found guilty of murder that he tried to portray as an “Islamophobic” attack, and in 2014 in California, a Muslim was found guilty of killing his wife, after first blaming her murder on “Islamophobia.”

Gary Nathaniel Moore

“Man charged with setting Houston mosque fire was a devout attendee,” by Carol Christian and Leah Binkowitz, Houston Chronicle, December 30, 2015 (thanks to Steve):

A Houston man has been arrested in connection with a suspected arson at a mosque on Christmas Day.

A spokeswoman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives confirmed that the man was arrested early Wednesday, sometime after midnight, and appeared in court 7 a.m. Wednesday.

The suspect, Gary Nathaniel Moore, 37, of Houston, appeared in court at 7 a.m., spokeswoman Nicole Strong said.

According to a charging instrument released by the Harris County District Clerk, Moore told investigators at the scene that he has attended the mosque for five years, coming five times per day to pray seven days per week.

Moore told investigators he had been at the mosque earlier on Dec. 25 to pray, and had left at about 2 p.m. to go home. Moore told investigators he was the last person to leave the mosque and saw no smoke or other signs of fire when he left. He had returned to the scene after hearing about the fire from a friend.

Though the suspect said he was a regular at the mosque, MJ Khan, president of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston, which operates the mosque, said he was unfamiliar with Moore.

Of course. No doubt MJ Khan is shocked! Shocked!

“We are just looking into it ourselves,” he said Wednesday morning after learning of the arrest.

“We are really very surprised and saddened by this whole thing,” said Khan.

Using surveillance video from multiple businesses nearby, investigators were able to identify Moore, according to records. A search warrant of his home was conducted, in which investigators recovered a backpack and clothing that seemingly matched that which was seen in surveillance footage, as well as one half of a two-pack of charcoal lighter fluid bottles that seemed to match another lighter fluid bottle found inside the mosque….

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