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Native Americans and Land

Chief Seattle

Bill Batt: How Our Towns Got That Way   (1996 speech)

Rutgers Professor of Urban Planning Donald Krueckeberg more recently explained how real property became for the first time a "commodity," much as the market gives personal property exchange value. Native Americans tied the concept of property not to ownership but to use. "One used it, one moved on, and use was shared with others." But the colonists took their notion of real property from evolving British legal tradition, defined largely in terms of what its owners could subdue and control against challengers. John Locke's conception of property was, in one sense, more akin to the Indian notion in as much as one owned it only to the extent that one "mixed one's labor" with it.  ... read the whole article

Bill Batt: The Compatibility of Georgist Economics and Ecological Economics
Hence it becomes important, critically important, to understand the meaning of “ownership” and “property” in the Georgist lexicon. But it is not difficult, for they continue to have their classical meanings, just as for John Locke, Adam Smith, and all the major forerunners and thinkers of classical economics until the advent of neoclassical economics. What was the meaning of ownership and property in their classical sense? Property was the product of human labor and capital, and that alone. Items of property were household goods, personal attire, armaments, and similar such goods. Property belonged in the category of capital. Land was not part of property, but rather was its own category. Land, broadly defined, belonged to everyone and was the common heritage of all humanity.15 One could no more “own” land than one could own water, air, or other parts of nature, at least in the sense of ownership that people often use today. Much like the native-American concept of ownership, it was part of what was classically called “ the commons.” 16 “What is this you call property?” Massasoit, a leader of the Wampanoag, asked the Plymouth colonists whom he had befriended in the 1620s. “It cannot be the earth, for the land is our mother, nourishing all her children, beasts, birds, fish, and all men. The woods, the streams, everything on it belongs to everybody and is for the use of all. How can one man say it belongs to him?” 17

Not only are human beings co-equal with other living beings of the earth, so also are beings yet born entitled to an existence. The Iroquois Indians of New York State are often quoted to the effect that “In our every deliberation, we should consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.” 101 Several contemporary environmental organizations have adopted the Iroquois “Great Law of Peace” so that it has become the vernacular equivalent of the Brundtland Report’s definition of sustainability. Sustainable economics, or 7th generation planning, also requires Daly’s “steady state” economy, 102 where (as if natural resources constitute “capital”) one lives only on interest and not principle. Daly contrasts two notions of economic practice: growth and development. The former may momentarily increase economic productivity and wealth, but is in the long term a fatal course of policy. It increases quantity but not quality. Development, rather, is what should be aspired to, an increase in quality, efficiency, and fulfillment through minimal uses of energy and material resources. For development, the value-added dimension comes from treading lightly on the earth, from the use of mental capital rather than physical capital.103 Daly in still another article talks about three parameters of sustainability: “allocation, distribution, and scale,” which will lead to an economy which is “efficient, just and sustainable.” 104 ... read the whole article Indeed Georgists see a moral equivalency between monopoly ownership of land and nature and the ownership of slaves! ...

Bill Batt: How the Railroads Got Us On the Wrong Economic Track
Rutgers Professor of Urban Planning Donald Krueckeberg more recently explained how real property became for the first time a "commodity," much as the market gives personal property exchange value. Native Americans tied the concept of property not to ownership but to use. "One used it, one moved on, and use was shared with others." But the colonists took their notion of real property from evolving British legal tradition, defined largely in terms of what its owners could subdue and control against challengers. John Locke's conception of property was, in one sense, more akin to the Indian notion in as much as one owned it only to the extent that one "mixed one's labor" with it.  ... read the whole article

Mason Gaffney: 18 Fallacies
7. "Economics is hostile to environmentalism"

Partly wrong, although some economists are guilty as charged. Economics, properly pursued, deals with how best to meet human wants. Recreation, fishing, wildlife, amenities, clean air, pure water, sustained resource supply, watershed protection, good health, and conservation are legitimate human wants.  ... 

Here are four reasons why environmentalists and economists are natural allies.

(a) Economizing is conserving.
Rationalizing water use, the proper aim of economics, is inherently conserving. For example, if we put the Santa Ana River to its highest and best use, it would obviate megatons of water imports, and with them the associated environmental damage.

I myself possess a share of this river, which rises naturally in an area of intense water shortage, yet I waste it. Why? There is hardly any variable charge imposed on me for using more. There is a yearly fixed cost, at about $20 per acre-foot for a 'standard' amount. The 'standard' hasn't changed in a century, and is much more than I properly need.

Incidentally, the small charge covers expenses of the Gage Canal Co., which delivers to me in the cheapest old-fashioned way, by gravity, in rotation with other users. There is no charge at all for water as such.

Meantime, the State is importing water here at a true social cost of about $2,000 per acre foot, 100 times what I pay). If there were a market where I could sell my 'right' for a tenth of that price I would surely do so, but there isn't, so I am waiting. If there were a price charged to me at a tenth of that cost, I would not buy, but there isn't, so I am taking. Thus I, and thousands like me, just stand pat and waste water.

Abuse of local waters in arid areas of high demand, like Southern California, results in 'hydro-imperialism.' The prevailing ethic is mixed-up macho. Conservation is for sissies: Real Men don't conserve water; Real Men prove they possess predatory genes by preying on peaceful people's waters. The predators can build more golf courses in the Sonoran desert of the Coachella Valley.

(b) Subsidy wastes both dollars and ecologies.
Hydro-imperialism is the common enemy of Sierra Clubbers and economists. That is lucky for economists, because Sierra Clubbers have more clout. For example, twenty years ago some pork-barrellers proposed pumping water from the lower Mississippi River up to West Texas, to overcome drought in Lubbock. It was to be one of the The Great Boondoggles -- a real record-smasher for pure waste.

I laughed when I read ecologists were fighting it to save the habitat of some unremembered nothing-bird, say the 'Least Southwestern Shiny-rumped Fleapicker.' ...

'You have no right to stop growth,' says the hydro-imperialist. I agree, but insist on the counterpart: we have no duty to subsidize growth. Hydro-imperialists and allied land speculators have no right to demand subsidies. Water supply and flood control and navigation projects, the traditional kinds, are heavily subsidized. Subsidy generates waste almost by definition, in the amount of the subsidy. If it is a subsidy to withdraw water it also creates scarcity of water where nature may have given us plenty. Consider the lower Colorado River.

Every major user is subsidized, mostly by Congress. No one pays a dime for water at the source, but everyone gets paid to suck it up and take it home. No wonder there is a shortage. No wonder there are 82 golf courses operating in the Coachella Valley, a Sonoran desert, and 50 more planned.

No wonder The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation can't even find takers for water carried to Phoenix in its multi-billion dollar Granite Reef Aqueduct. I could go on, but exhorting Congress not to waste money is scolding sinners in Sodom. Come on, ecologists, find an endangered species!

(c) Correct economic analysis prescribes more water for fish
Twenty years ago a study on the S... River of B.... prescribed sacrificing the fishery to a proposed power project, reasoning as follows. The fishery has no value because it is overcrowded; 'its rent has been dissipated by the tragedy of the commons'.

The value of the catch is only great enough to pay the fishermen. The fishery as such therefore has no residual value; it adds nothing to the total value. Take it away and nothing is lost, net of costs.

That is a profound fallacy. You will have noted it is a way of 'dehumanizing' fishermen and assuming away their unemployment costs, but that is not my main point. It says you should remove water from the use that is crowded with people, and dedicate it to the use of fewer people. This violates the basic law of diminishing return'; (a.k.a. variable proportions). It violates good marginal analysis, a bedrock of economics. ...

(d) Correct economic analysis presumes public trusts
Another thing some economists do right is to acknowledge that 'entitlements' -- the initial assignments of property rights - have a major effect on the relative bargaining power of different parties.

For years, economists would ask, say, canoers what they as individuals would pay to keep a river wild.. They got rather low valuations, and duly reported them as the value of recreation. This was an effective defensive strategy for dam builders.

One day it occurred to some unsung genius to ask not what the canoer would pay for the wild river; ask what the power company would have to pay the canoer, and all potential canoers, to extinguish their entitlements.

The second question presumes that canoers, as citizens, already own the wild river.

In recent years ecologists have been catching onto this point and rubbing the noses of legislators and bad economists in it. In the currert lingo, one arguing ex parte the canoers stresses that canoers' WTA (Willingness to Accept) is the relevant dollar value, and it is higher, perhaps much higher, than their WTP (Willingness to Pay)

In defense, the black-hat economists are developing the new defensive strategy of trivializing the matter by claiming WTP = WTA.

They follow a Chicago-School guru, one Ronald Coase, who has written it doesn't really matter how you assign entitlements so long as it is clear and firm. Then just call the signal for 'Free Market!' an punt: everything will work out for the best. Property will be allocate the same, no matter who starts the game with all the chips, because WTP = WTA.

Bunk! You are not surprised when someone says 'My home is not for sale. I will not sell at any price' even in our highly mobile, commercially oriented society. They can take that attitude when they hold the initial entitlement.

You would be amazed to hear anyone say 'I will pay any price,' There are many documented instances of a person swearing under oath his land is worth no more than $X for tax assessment purpose and soon thereafter swearing again it is worth $15X when being condemned for a park or other public use, because he wouldn't sell it for less.

Modern' micro-economics is a throwback to the old Manchester School, some of whose members carried Adam Smith far beyond Smith's intent. They prescribed 'free trade in land' as the solution to all resource problems -- free trade beginning with entitlements inherited from millennia of conquest, corruption, aristocracy, confiscations, negligence, covin and fraud.

In this narrow view, everyone is an economic man; everyone has his price; all decisions are marginal; etc. Facts are forced to fit that theology. One modernist works the northwest Pacific Coast these days taking questionnaire surveys to put a value on environmental values. He has written that he rejects and screens out WTA answers when they exceed WTP answers by more than 5%. They don't fit the model, so they are invalid 'aberrations.'

If so, aborigines are aberrations. Consider Indian tribes with Treaty Rights to fish. Their WTP for those rights is minimal, partly because their ability to pay (ATP) is minimal. In addition, the mere hypothesis they are the ones who must pay implies they are impoverished and cannot pay anything.

On the other hand, their WTA presumes their Treaty Rights are valid and they are in control. In their culture, traditional land rights rank very high relative to money. They have seen people squander money and be ruined by it land is not squanderable, by nature. Land has more than marginal value to them because they have just one way of life, based on fishing. Substitution of other lands is not part of their ethic. Religion is also involved. It is entirely believable they mean it when they say they will not sell 'at any price.' They may be unreasonable, but that's the point: ownership lets you be as unreasonable as you please. We only notice when someone else has the entitlement. Politics and institutions are involved: Treaty Rights are the most valuable mode of holding property there can be. They enjoy legal supremacy as high as the Constitution itself (Article VI, Section 2), preempting contracts and ordinary legislation.

Indians are an extreme case, but most of us have a streak of their psychology. Not many generations back we shared the same kind of culture, a dependence on traditional lands we held in common, in trust for our descendants. These traditions affect current behavior, and are totally disregarded in mechanical-type formal micro modeling (except perhaps as tautological 'revealed preferences'). ... Read the whole article

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Wealth and Want
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