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A Modest Proposal To Save Our Country, He Wrote Modestly …

Was anyone surprised that on the day after the presidential election, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar (more on him in a minute) issued a final plan to take 1.6 million acres of public land off the table for oil shale development?  I wasn’t.

After all, why would we want to produce domestic energy and create thousands of jobs when there are wind turbines to build, successful Americans to punish, and carbon taxes to levy?  And you can bet the worst is yet to come.

Out here in the colonies (see map, where federal lands are depicted in red), where the government owns most of our land and treats us like vassals of the state (you’re next, friends), we’re used to this kind of thing. Most Americans — and probably a large percentage of fine Ricochet members — have no idea how different things are in the west from the rest of the country.  Our president is not the president, but actually the Secretary of Interior, who controls our land, our water, our air, and our economy. Secretary Salazar is our unelected federal overlord. He runs 88% of Nevada, 68% of Utah, 67% of Alaska, 65% of Idaho, 56% of Oregon, 50% of Wyoming, 44% of Arizona, 39% of Colorado, 36% of New Mexico, 33% of Washington, 32% of Montana, and much, much more.

He’s a Democratic hack from Colorado, a strutting bantam rooster who attempts to show he’s from the sagebrush hood by wearing unshaped cowboy hats straight from the box that look like bottle caps on his bean and bolo ties that appear to have been purchased from a Flying J truck stop on I-80. He is as authentic as John Kerry in a Carhartt jacket saying, “I need to buy me a huntin’ license!” Salazar fools no one except the media. Plus, he has anger management issues.  He may be the biggest landlord in the world, as well as the most ideological. Which leads to an idea I’ve been mulling over for months that, if implemented, would solve many of our current problems and make everybody happy (except, perhaps, Secretary Salazar). After all, if us losers can’t offer big ideas for the future, what is the point of soldiering on?

Simply: The U.S. government should sell off all federally owned land — except for national parks and monuments, defense facilities, and Indian reservations — to the highest bidder in a series of auctions. Proceeds of the sales would be used exclusively to pay down the deficit.

Currently, the government owns approximately 640,000 square miles contained in states west of the Mississippi, give or take a few thousand. That land contains forests, deserts, high plains, mountains, coal, oil, gas, etc. I can only guess how many trillions it would bring in. 

I don’t care if the purchasers are locals, corporations, foreigners, or even the states themselves, or whether the new owners develop, exploit, or preserve the land. That’s up to them. I wouldn’t mind owning a few acres in Alaska (244,627 square miles of public land to choose from) myself.

Not only would this massive sale benefit all Americans and right the fiscal ship, it would fix a wrong that has gone on too long with very little comment. What is the legal or moral reason for the federal government to own so much of our land? It’s not the case in the rest of the country.  Plus, we desperately need the money.

The new owners of former federal land would create new enterprises, grow the overall economy, and compete to hire the unemployed. Forests would likely thrive instead of burn every summer. Energy would be produced. Beautiful vistas would be managed and appreciated instead of being left to go to seed.

Granted, some new owners would be bad neighbors and bad actors. But in my experience, the best stewards of land are landowners, not absentee bureaucrats with fuzzy-headed ideas and no skin in the game.

As a sop to those who would instinctively object to this proposal, I’d suggest we carve out a small slice of the payments to guarantee contraception to all 30-year-old Georgetown law students in perpetuity — since they’ve revealed themselves to be such a cheap date anyway.

Who is with me?

  1. tabula rasa

    I agree completely.  Sadly, the proposal makes so much sense that it hasn’t a prayer of success (certainly not in the second Obama administration). 

  2. Terry Mott

    I was going to write:

    Great idea.  It’ll never happen.

     But TR beat me to it.

  3. Doug Kimball

    If the US sold off the entire lot each acre would have to sell for an average of $39K per acre to cover the current deficit.  That seems high.  Of course, the mineral and oil/gas rich acreage would go for far more.  I say we start by auctioning off all the high value land and see where it takes us. 

  4. C.J. Box
    Doug Kimball: If the US sold off the entire lot each acre would have to sell for an average of $39K per acre to cover the current deficit.  That seems high.  Of course, the mineral and oil/gas rich acreage would go for far more.  I say we start by auctioning off all the high value land and see where it takes us.  · in 2 minutes

    That’s some impressive calculating!  But I didn’t say we could pay off the deficit completely — but pay it down.  I agree with you: starting with the high-value land would make the most sense.

  5. MLH

    Arizona voted no (67%) on the State Sovereignty, proposition 120, alas. 

  6. Babci

    <Standing ovation>

    Good for you. Someone thinking instead of whining (always amazed at all the “but’s”, “sadly’s” and “alas’s” that pepper the comments online.)  I’m all in…

    I’ll offer time, money and energy if you (or someone else)  flesh out the plan a little more.

  7. Butters

    Imagine if Romney had presented this in places like NV/CO/NM/OR and promised to give it back.

  8. Severely Ltd.

    C.J., you might be high profile enough for this to get some attention. If you take it on I hope your taxes are squeaky clean, because I see an audit in your future.

    Even if it has no chance of going anywhere, maybe it would expose people to the huge percentages the government owns. I had no idea it was on that scale. Is the public given access to much of the land for hunting/recreation? Anyone?

  9. Trace

    I would agree with the caveat that perhaps we set aside just a little bit more — for national park. Maybe selling off the shale land and seeing where we are is a good way to start. I don’t really want to see Montana turned into Brooklyn. 

  10. Roberto

    The old ideas are the best ideas, which is of course why it will never happen:

    Three Republican lawmakers are seeking to force Uncle Sam to sell about 3.3 million acres of land he no longer needs to help pay down the national debt.

    Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Mike Lee of Utah and Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah introduced legislation this week in their respective chambers that would order Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to dispose of the federal property that the Clinton administration identified in a 1997 report as suitable for sale.

    It of course went nowhere and that was for only, “…roughly 1 percent of all land managed by the Bureau of Land Management and less than one half of 1 percent of all federal land, the lawmakers said.”

  11. Misthiocracy

    Hear hear!

  12. Misthiocracy

    Today, the Misthiocratic Party of the United States (Marxist-Lennonist) nominated C.J. Box as it’s 2016 presidential candidate.

    When asked for comment, Mr. Box said, “Who?!”

  13. Shawn Sisco

    Severely: public access is given, but  means of travel into land is highly restricted so as to render access for hunting/ camping unfeasible (can’t drive in, or ride a horse in.

    Roughly 33% of the land in the county of Missouri in which I reside is owned by National Forrest/ State Forrest. This land being “off the table” stifles investment in our area….Also, I am concerned that when our fiat currency is no longer acceptable to our communist creditors for debt repayment, that this land will be handed over one day to their Government.

  14. Jeff Smith

    I have long been annoyed that so much federal land lies “fallow”.  What does the government need of it?  Some could be auctioned and some granted.  ”40 acres and a mule”!

  15. Misthiocracy
    C.J. Box

    Doug Kimball: If the US sold off the entire lot each acre would have to sell for an average of $39K per acre to cover the current deficit.  That seems high.  Of course, the mineral and oil/gas rich acreage would go for far more.  I say we start by auctioning off all the high value land and see where it takes us.

    That’s some impressive calculating!  But I didn’t say we could pay off the deficit completely — but pay it down.  I agree with you: starting with the high-value land would make the most sense.

    How much you wanna bet that the highest-value land also happens to be the prettiest, and is inhabited by the cutest creatures?

    I’m just sayin’…

  16. Misthiocracy
    Trace: I would agree with the caveat that perhaps we set aside just a little bit more — for national park. Maybe selling off the shale land and seeing where we are is a good way to start. I don’t really want to see Montana turned into Brooklyn. 

    What’s wrong with Brooklyn?

  17. Front Ranger

    I’m with you. It’s federal ownership of our lands that allows the coasters to continue the tired slander about westerners being the first in line for government handouts. This would also bring a merciful end to management plans and perfunctory comment periods (wherein the federales say “weigh in folks, although we’ve already decided what we’re going to do.”). As an aside, I’ve always wanted to see what it would be like to dropkick a sage grouse.

  18. Scott Wilmot

    36 years ago as an 18-year-old, with power of attorney granted to me from my Dad, my brother and I drove to Big Sky, Montana to bid on a condo at an auction at the new ski resort. That experience was a blast and now I am ready for some more action. Great idea C.J. – please sign me up!

  19. DutchTex

    The number of active oil rigs drilling in the United States stands at around 1800 right now.  Just about half of those are drilling in Texas.  Texas land is 97% privately owned.  That’s 4% of US landmass, with half of all its oil rigs.  Hmmm…  

    I think Mr. Box is onto something.

  20. BrentB67

    Great sentiment, but I think your terminology or math may be off. The deficit is the annual amount we add to the national debt. To deal with our debt problem we first need to fix the deficit and not do it by selling our most plentiful and valuable asset – land.

    If we balance the budget by cutting spending so the deficit is $0 then we can begin land sales to pay down the outstanding debt.

    The worst thing a nation or business can do is sell assets (federal land) to fund operational needs (deficit). Sell long long term assets to retire long term debt.

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