Cahill's Who Owns The World
By William Walter Kay
Land economics, in particular the realm of the land magnate, are evidently topics too sensitive for public scrutiny. However, every environmental issue, from global warming to biodiversity loss, can be understood only in the context of the political economy of landownership. This abridgement deals with who benefits from environmentalism.
Kevin Cahill’s Who Owns the World is too dilettantish, eccentric and polemical to pass as a library reference text on landownership. Nevertheless, Cahill wins by default as no one else had the temerity or insight to broach this subject on the grand scale.
While Who Owns the World circumnavigates the globe, this abridgement crops the text down to those countries forming the home-turf of environmentalism: Western Europe and the English-speaking world.
*Please see footnotes regarding the meaning of “ownership” (1) and on currency-based valuations (2).
(Cahill uses the “acre” as his unit of land measurement. An acre is 4,840 square yards. There are 640 acres in a square mile. An acre is 0.4 of a hectare. There are about 250 acres in a square kilometre. An acre is slightly smaller than a football field.)
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Britain and Ireland
Cahill on Environmentalism
EU Farm Subsidies: Welfare for Aristocrats
The Persistence of the Ancient Regime
Tax Havens are Neo-feudalist
Reclaim the Estates!
European Forest Size
European Homeownership Rates
Australia and Canada
Possession of land is a human right. Landlessness is a universal feature of poverty despite there being 5 acres for everyone on earth. Land reform is essential for solving poverty but there is no movement to get land to the poor.
From 8000 BC to 1800 AD land in most societies was owned by less than 1% of the population. Everywhere a tension existed between the desire of the many to be independent producers and the power of the few to force them to be dependent labourers. Open markets in land threatened landowner hegemony. Religious institutions helped restrict access to land.
After 1800 prosperity bloomed across the planet. Connected to this prosperity was a spread of landownership. In many countries, most households now own their homes. A century ago homeownership was rare. Increasing landownership, rural and urban, mirrors a decline of religion. Academics neglect this process because academics are beholden to the landowning elites.
When aristocracies are restrained, people disperse freely across the land and a real capitalism begins. 19th century USA is the best example. Another example is post-WWII Japan where MacArthur abolished aristocratic landlordism and suddenly Japan became a country of small landowners. This was the largest redistribution of land in history and an impetus to an economic boom.
Land is the most basic commodity but nowhere is there a transparent, fair market in land. This key commodity, in this mis-described capitalist system, is controlled by secret coalitions. Half the world has either no land registry or ones that count only small fractions of the land. Everywhere one finds bent dealerships and monopolistic control. The 1 billion acres of urban land (3% of the earth) is mostly owned by slumlords, authorities and aristocrats. At best 10% of urban land is held in forms of ownership guaranteeing basic rights and allowing market participation.
Ferdinand Braudel posed the question:
“The key problem is to find out why that sector of society of the past, which I would not hesitate to call capitalist, should have lived as if in a bell jar, cut off from the rest; why was it not able to expand and conquer the whole of society? Why was it that a significant rate of capital formation was possible only in certain sectors and not in the whole market economy of the time?”
Braudel answers his question by pointing to elites:
“Those men knew a thousand ways of rigging the odds in their favour...they possessed superior knowledge, intelligence and culture. And around them they grabbed up everything worth taking: land, real estate and rents...there are two types of exchange: one down to earth, based on competition and almost transparent; the other, a higher form, is sophisticated in domineering.”
Britain and Ireland
The United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) covers 59.9 million acres. Ireland covers 17.3 million acres.
In 1066 William the Conqueror brought to the British Isles a legal system concerned almost solely with landownership. He also restored the Imperial Roman principle of all land belonging to the monarch. The British Isles were carved up among William’s family and allies. Britain was no exception to the European rule which placed over a quarter of land in Church hands. Kings granted the Church huge tracts. Monasteries owned a third of England. This situation persisted until the Protestant Reformation.
The first Protestant monarch, Britain’s Henry VIII (r.1509-47), abolished monasteries and seized 10 million acres. He endowed his new Anglican Church with 2 million acres and sold the rest. (In 1872 most of that 2 million acres was still held by the Anglican Church. Currently only 223,000 acres remain and no official explanation is given as to where the missing acres went.)
At the time of the Irish Famine (1845-1849) 614 men owned 95% of Ireland. Of 8 million Irish people 70,000 owned land. During the famine, Ireland was a food exporter. Grain, meat, butter and cheese were carted for exportation along roads lined with the starving and trenches piled with the dead. Ireland was a country where you could be evicted whether you paid your rent or not. Due to the potato blight, many peasants could supply neither labour nor cash to their lords. They were turned out on the road. An Irish winter can be merciless. Four winters did to a million homeless peasants what the Nazi’s gas did to the Jews.
The Return of Owners of Land (1872-1876) was commissioned by the House of Lords, specifically by the Earl of Darby, to prove a point against reforming MP William Bright. At this time county libraries and parishes maintained land registries. Using these registries researchers compiled a list of landowners in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. This survey revealed almost the entire kingdom to be held by 3,000 families and that 27 out of 28 subjects owned not a blade of grass. Of 28.4 million people, owners of less than one acre numbered 840,000; owners of more than one acre numbered 333,000; and owners of nothing numbered 27.2 million. 710 aristocrats owned 25% of England and Wales. Of 410,000 Irish farms, all but 32,600 were rented.
Of the 3,000 major landed families, 500 were titled aristocrats. These men formed the entire complement of the House of Lords. Moreover, most House of Commons MPs were landed gentry because only 2% of adult males, property holders, had the vote. Anglican bishops were also of the landed estate. Modern dictators pray for such control.
The aristocracy put a hex on the Return. The last serious consideration of the Return was written in 1881 by a wealthy viscount’s son who spent 15 pages damning it. Between 1881 and 2001, no academic paper on the Return was publically available because none was written. No Ph.D. thesis on the Return has ever been accepted by a British university.
For 50 years after 1876, attempts to start a proper land registry were thwarted by large landowners. In the 1920s, swelling urban homeownership forced politicians to establish a registry. However, pursuant to the 1925 Land Act, this registry records only transfers of land, not general ownership. Land not recently sold is not in the registry. At least 50% of English and Welsh land has not been transacted since 1925; hence, the registry has no record of who owns over half of these two countries. Contemporary politicians have no plans to reform the registry so as to provide the public with meaningful details about how land is held and by whom.
Britons’ march toward homeownership advanced steadily from the 1870s to the 1970s. During this period homeownership grew from 5% of households to nearly 70%. This was the era of “grudge capitalism” characterized by a minimal distribution of land to the masses. This distribution leeched away 7%, 4 million acres, of British land. This 7% is the urban/developed land upon which 89% of 60 million Britons now reside. (Only a fraction of urban land is residential housing.) Total housing stock, rural and urban, is 24.5 million units of which 16.9 million are privately owned.
As for the other 93% of British land: forests, half of which are state owned, cover 5.6 million acres; 800,000 acres are under fresh water, 41 million acres is “agricultural”; and the balance is mountains, bogs, moors, wasteland, etc.
The 41 million agricultural acres are owned by 0.26% of the population. Of Britain’s 230,000 farms, one-third are rented. The 158,000 farm-owners average 260 acres each. With an agricultural acre selling for $7,200, the average farm-owner is a millionaire. 40% of the UK’s millionaires are rural landowners. (Britain’s 260,000 non-rural millionaires typically have nearly half of their fortune in real estate.) 6,000 men (almost all descendants of the 3,000 named in the 1870s Report) own 46% of the UK’s landmass.
Britain’s largest landowner is Queen Elizabeth. Her holdings include the 365,000-acre Crown Estate. She is also Duchess of Lancaster, an estate of 49,000 acres, and Duchess of Normandy – 90,000 acres. She owns the 60,000-acre Balmoral estate in Scotland and the 22,000-acre Sandringham estate in Norfolk. These possessions have a notional value of $6 billion. In reality, the Crown Estate’s metropolitan acres, particularly those in London, would fetch, in a slow sale, between $10 and 15 billion. As a family inheritance, the Queen’s son (Prince Charles) is the Duke of Cornwall, an estate of 141,000 acres. This duchy includes land inside developed zones in western England and metropolitan London worth far in excess its current valuation of $750 million.
(In 1995, Business Age magazine estimated the Queen’s wealth at $4 billion. The Royals responded in a letter downplaying this estimate but without mentioning various trusts and other legal shells used to hide their wealth. Cahill contends the Royals could buy Parliament, buildings and members, several times over and have change left for the cinema.)
Britain has 26 living hereditary dukes. Until 1999 dukes had seats in the House of Lords. Only two remain seated: the Dukes of Montrose and Norfolk. This latter duchy is held by the elusive and influential Howard dynasty whose current patriarch owns 46,000 acres of southern England.
The Duke of Buccleuch’s 277,000 acres have a vacant possession value of $2.7 billion. He owns three palaces stuffed with art. In the 1990s his annual rural rent roll was $18 million; it would be greater now.
The Duke of Westminster (Grosvenor family) owns 129,300 acres in Britain and another 500,000 acres in the USA, Canada and Australia. Among his assets is a 300-acre parcel in London’s smartest area, Mayfair, worth over $10 billion. The full Grosvenor Estate is worth over $20 billion.
The Duke of Atholl’s 148,000 acres are worth around $1.5 billion. Many of the Duke of Richmond’s 12,000 acres are in urban areas. The Duke of Northumberland’s 132,000 acres include a swath of London. The Duchess of Northumberland recently re-landscaped the gardens at the family home at a cost of $50 million. There are also several Earls with large holdings.
British land magnates maintain a propaganda barricade purporting that there is little land left in the country. Consequently, even though much of Britannia is vacant, Britons think at any moment the last acre will be concreted over. The Sunday Times,in a special colour supplement, predicted the final concrete would be poured in 2016. A 2005 report from the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) gave rural England 30 years to Armageddon. This report was called “irresponsible scaremongering” by the Royal Institute of Town Planning who countered that with building consuming 14,400 acres annually “total development” is over 2,000 years away.
Homeownership stalled under Prime Minister Thatcher whose slash-and-burn approach to industry undermined job security, hence cut off revenues needed to pay a mortgage. Thatcher’s sale of council homes to tenants temporarily bumped up homeownership statistics but permanently injured the house-building industry. The sale of council flats was done recklessly and without provision for replacing those deteriorating buildings. She also created tax breaks favouring builders of rented accommodation.
The UK real estate market’s annual turnover of $380 billion is mainly in second-hand buildings. The average house price is $345,000. The land upon which a house sits constitutes 50-60% of its price. This is due to an artificial shortage of land caused by keeping 41 million rural acres off the market.
Rural land is kept off the market by “green” land-use planning and exorbitant farm subsidies. An economically viable farm does not need subsidies. If merely the obviously uneconomic farmland was opened to the housing market, the cost of a new house would be cut by a third. Some 2,100 wealthy UK farmers each receive annual subsidies of $650,000. The Queen may be receiving $16 million a year in farming subsidy; Prince Charles $25 million. The total subsidy given to British farmers is over $10 billion a year. Millionaires are paid to keep land off the market.
In Ireland the situation is edifyingly different. The government owns 7.5% of land (woodlands, peat bogs, municipal buildings and military bases). 92.5% of land is privately owned. Farmland was redistributed to its peasant tenants between 1880 and 1927 through a succession of purchase acts originating in the British Parliament. The few aristocratic estates remaining cover less than 17,000 acres. (The Duke of Devonshire owns 8,000 acres.) 99% of farmland is privately held. 80% of urban homes are privately held. Rural and urban combined, 90% of households have ownership (47% without mortgage). This is one of the highest levels of homeownership in the world and may be close to the saturation point, given the large student population. Many families are acquiring second houses.
Cahill on Environmentalism
Cahill’s views on environmentalism are revealed in two quotes:
“...the land market is further impeded by planning laws conceived mainly by the landholders for the sole purpose of making land artificially scarce. They have recruited to their cause a strange lobby. This is the mainly urban environmental movement and ecology lobby. It is wholly within the British landholding tradition to take a good cause, and well-intentioned people, and send them to battle for a bad end. But what is even more ironic about the strange marriage of landholders and environmental lobbyists is that this is the lobby which has made first time homeownership in the UK the most expensive on the planet. The ecology lobby has penalized and injured its own children, in pursuit of a goal they have seemingly not costed nor enumerated.”
“Both UK and US landowners have recruited the conservation lobby and the greens to the cause of protecting rural land. What characterizes these groups in the UK and America is that they never give figures for the acreage they are trying to protect and the acreage that is already urban or developed. Typical of these groups is the UK Council for the Protection of Rural England. When asked by the author for the dimensions of either England or its rural area, their senior officials could provide neither. But the ultimate aim of landowners in both countries appears to be the same: to use bureaucratic measures to hide the true extent of land in either country and so maintain the appearance of land scarcity.”
Cahill is aware the land scarcity myth, as with the resource scarcity and overpopulation myths, is a big lie disseminated by environmentalists at the behest of the land lobby – a lobby he repeatedly connects to early 20th century fascism.
On the other hand, he takes “global warming” seriously; he believes gardens are essential to a “green clean environment” and he thinks environmentalists are keeping Florida’s everglades “safe”. He views environmentalism as a good movement gone bad, not as an invention of the land lobby. Cahill’s take on environmentalism is naive and conflicted.
EU Farm Subsidies: Welfare for Aristocrats
The economic madness of farm subsidies is not confined to Britain. This “heist of heists” is masterminded out of Brussels, headquarters of the European Union.
The European Union began in 1960 on the initiative of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and Kingdom of Belgium. Piloting the EU’s formation was Dr. Otto Habsburg.
Half the EU’s budget goes to farm subsidies. 350 million Europeans pay 7 million Europeans $65 billion a year to stay on their estates, increase their rents and enjoy huge appreciations in land values.
This heist is aided by the European statistical agency, Eurostat, whose mingling of “owned” and “rented” acreages makes it impossible to tell to whom a subsidy is going.
A tribute to the market warping effect of these subsidies is the fact that farmland prices are rising while farm receipts are falling in most EU states.
The USA has 2.15 million farmers working 930 million acres. Italy has 2.15 million farmers working 32 million acres. Greece has 817,000 farmers working 8.8 million acres. The average American farm is ten times the size of the average EU farm.
Farmland, 50% of the EU’s landmass, is owned by 2% of EU’s population. Most Europe’s farms are smaller than 5 acres. The largest 1.5 million farms account for 315 of 450 million acres of farmland. These large farms receive subsidies too. In France the largest 1% of farms receives more in subsidy than do the smallest 40% of farms.
France is the key to understanding farm subsidies. France remains 25% rural, and this rural constituency is politically cohesive. Within the EU, France is the main lobby for farm subsidies. France has twice the farmland as the UK but five times the farmers. Half French farmland is rented. French aristocrats own 15 million acres. They are joined by several influential and subsidy-hungry agricultural co-ops with vast acreages. A significant amount of French farmland is owned by the Catholic Church.
At the centre of the scam are 77,000 European landowners who own 25% of the farmland and receive $15 billion a year in subsidies. At the scam’s pinnacle are billionaire aristocrats each raking in subsidies of over $10 million per year. The poor farmers of media myth are tenants of aristocrats. The EU is a welfare office for aristocrats.
Two thirds of the EU’s arable land is owned by a few hundred thousand men who collect most of the farming subsidy. They are paid to own the most valuable assets in the worst-run economic sector. They are paid to keep the most critical factor within the capitalist system, land, off the market. Withdrawing the subsidy would allow this land to be put to better use.
The Persistence of the Ancient Regime
As the Kingdom of Belgium was carved from the Spanish Habsburg Empire, many of its aristocratic estates date to those times. 87,000 Belgian farms encompass 3.4 million acres of which 2.3 million acres are rented. A third of dwellings are rented and rental property is predominantly privately owned. King Albert II (Saxe-Coburg-Gotha) has strong bonds with other royals. His mother was Princess Astrid of Sweden. His wife, Queen Paola, is of the Ruffo di Calabria clan – ancient aristocrats with vast holdings in southern Italy. In 1999, Business Age estimated the Belgian King’s wealth at $2.25 billion. His landholdings exceed 100,000 acres, but not all of that is in Belgium. (The Saxe-Coburg-Gotha family, as a whole, own about three times as much.) Other Belgian aristocrats own 1 million acres of the country. The Dutch Royal family owns 50,000 acres in Belgium. Prince Hans-Adam of Liechtenstein owns 40,000 acres. Other large landowners in Belgium include: Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg, Baron Albert Frere, the Hilti family of Liechtenstein, the Leysens, Baron Jannsen, the L’Hoists, the D’Avignons, the Bergendals and the Colyruyts. The Duke of Wellington has 2,000 acres near Brussels while the Collin dynasty owns substantial parcels inside Brussels.
Queen Margrethe II is the 52nd Glucksburg-Oldenburg to rule Denmark. She is married to Count Henrik de Laborde de Monpezat. Her 5.4 million subjects are crammed onto 10.6 million acres. 50,000 farms take up 6.8 million acres. Denmark’s aristocracy thrives despite having endured a crisis in the early 1800s when there was a partial redistribution of land to peasants. The Danish Royal family’s landholdings are kept secret, but they do own real estate in Denmark including a 5,000-acre estate. They also own a vineyard in southern France. Crown Prince Joachim runs a farm in Jutland. In 1999, Business Age valued their wealth at near $150 million. Other large Danish landowners include the Jutland Farm Cooperative (300,000 acres) and Count Friege (over 250,000 acres).
There has been never been significant land reform in Austria (population 8 million, area 20 million acres). 334 rural landowners own 4.2 million acres. Prince Thurn and Taxis owns 500,000 acres. The Rothschilds own 50,000 acres around Vienna. The Church owns 750,000 acres. The state owns 4.8 million acres, mostly forest.
Finland has many large old estates, but official farm and forest figures conceal ownership patterns. The largest landowners are the state and the forestry co-op. Finnish aristocrats own over 3 million acres.
Germany’s 88 million acres contain 46 million acres of farmland. Of 550,000 farms, 24,000 are greater than 250 acres and consolidation is ongoing. Most farmland is rented. The following are the German princes, families and ‘Houses’ owning between 100,000 and 300,000 acres each: Prince of Thurn and Taxis, Prince Hohenzollern, Hohenloe family, Bismarck family, the Bavarian Wittlesbachs, House of Hanover, House of Saxony, Wurtternburgs, House of Castell, House of Wittgenstein, Hohenloe-Langenburgs, House of Hesse, Prince Biron von Curland and the Tettau family. Protestant churches own between 25,000 and 50,000 German acres.
As there has been no land reform in Greece, land is largely held by ancient hereditary lineages. As there is no social housing, all 2.2 million rented dwellings (30% of households) are owned by private landlords. 20% of Greece is owned by the Orthodox Church.
In Italy, although aristocratic titles were abolished in 1946, there was no formal land redistribution; thus, the countryside is a patchwork of aristocratic estates. Government statistics are ridiculous. Case in point, the government claims that of 26 million dwellings, 6 million are vacant. The government owns 5,000 farms covering 8.5 million acres (11.5% of Italy). Large landowners include the Lampedusa family (Sicily), the Aga Khan (Sardinia) and the Aldobrandini (175,000 acres). Sicilian Bourbons own 260,000 acres. The former royal Savoyards’ hundreds of thousands of acres are spread over several countries.
The largest landowner in Italy, after the state, is the Catholic Church. In 1870 King Victor Emmanuel II confiscated the Papal States and the Pope’s Quirinal Palace. Mussolini’s Lateran Treaty of 1929 compensated the Church for the loss of the Papal States with 750 million lira and a 1 billion lira 5% state bond. The Treaty also exempted the Church from taxation. (Some Church tax privileges were lost in 1984.) Most importantly, the Treaty returned 5 million acres. Much of this land is urban including 1,000 acres of residential buildings in central Rome. The land returned in 1929 is presently worth $75 billion. The Lateran Treaty also made the Vatican City an independent state. The 108 acres the Vatican is sitting on, based on central Rome’s prices, are worth $3.8 billion. Vatican treasures are worth $50 billion (according to the Church). The Vatican is also a lucrative tourist attraction; one of many owned by the Catholic Church (Lourdes attracts 5 million visitors a year).
(World-over the Catholic Church may own 177 million acres. The Church owns properties in 168 countries. There are 219,714 Catholic churches, 612 patriarchal palaces, 2130 bishop’s palaces and around 9,000 monasteries, schools and hospitals. Great mystery shrouds their purportedly humongous landholdings in Latin America.)
The island state of Malta covers 78,000 acres. 92% of the 400,000 Maltese live in urban areas. The crusader order, Knights of Malta, own much of the island, certainly all its 11,000 small farms. They also own land around Europe and the Americas, both directly and through their secular arm, Knights of St John. The Catholic Church owns 10,000 acres on Malta.
The Kingdom of the Netherlands is one of the most densely populated places on earth (16.2 million people on 10.2 million acres). One article of the Dutch constitution deals with property rights. Seventeen articles deal with the powers of the monarch. Queen Beatrix (Orange Nassau) succeeded to the throne upon the abdication of her mother in 1980. At this time there was much speculation about Juliana’s fortune. It was then estimated at $2 billion but is several times that now. Investigative journalists failed to discover exactly how her wealth, mainly shares, was held. Most of the Royal assets are in trusts in the Netherland Antilles. The Royal family are the largest landowners in the Netherlands (400,000 acres). They own property across Europe. Other Dutch aristocrats own 750,000 acres of the Netherlands.
The Norwegian Royals are directly related to Danish and British Royals. King Harald V is an Oxford grad (political science). Crown Prince Haakon studied political science at Berkeley. Business Age valued the Norwegian Royals at over $100 million in 1999. They own at least 5,000 acres in Norway where their fellow aristocrats own 1.5 million acres. The state owns 50% of Norway; the Lutheran Church owns 15%.
Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustav was born in 1946, the son of Crown Prince Gustav Adolf and Princess Sibylla (Saxe-Coburg-Gotha). The Swedish monarch has few powers, not even signing laws onto the statute book. Nevertheless the Swedish Royals are rich. They reputedly own $800 million in land, art and investments, but their fortune is concealed.
Sweden had a house of peers, the Riddarhuset, until 1865. The Riddarhuset continues to function on a private basis and controls 300 funds and estates. 25,000 of the 9 million Swedes belong to the nobility in the broad sense. The real aristocracy consists of 46 Counts, 122 Barons and 441 other landed-titled families, collectively known as ‘The 600’. They control much of Sweden’s businesses and buildings. The southern provinces, including densely populated Scania, are entirely owned by such families. Much of Sweden is owned by forest companies controlled by state officials and The 600. The top Swedish landowner is Baron Aselsward (400,000 acres).
Juan Carlos (Bourbon), the King of Spain, is married to Princess Sophia of Greece and Denmark. In 1999 Business Age valued his fortune at $1.8 billion. He owns 200,000 acres. Other Bourbons control six Spanish duchies with a combined area of 2 million acres.
The Spanish land registry is voluntary, and because aristocrats decline to participate, it accounts for at most 15% of Spanish land. Fifty-two dynasties spread over 5,000 interrelated households own at least 30% of all arable land. Government statistics indicate that 60,000 households own two-thirds of agricultural land. However, 1989 statistics showed 5,083 large holdings with an average size of 6,000 acres, giving the elite 50% of farmland. (The current EU farm subsidy for a 6,000-acre farm is $700,000 a year.) Eleven million of the kingdom’s 42 million subjects live in the countryside. Most Spanish farmers are tenants.
Between Spain’s official agricultural area of 61 million acres and its official size of 125 million acres lies a chunk of unexplained land. Coasts and beeches are mostly state property. Another 34 million acres are claimed as forest, but ownership details are not given. Millions of acres of wilderness are owned by Spanish Grandees whose estates run to 100,000 or more acres, with peasant plots on the margin.
Of 400,000 title-bearing Spaniards, 312 are in the Council of Grandees whose membership is restricted to those owning sufficient land to uphold the dignity of the title. Council Grandees have ranks such as duke, marquis, count, viscount and baron. The Council has a legal right of representation in the Spanish cabinet and the government has a tradition of selecting Grandees as ambassadors.
Aristocratic titles and privileges were abolished by the Spanish Republic in 1931 and some land was expropriated. After Franco consolidated power in 1939, the Grandees got their land back. By 1948 all previous aristocratic ordinances were restored. The current Spanish constitution did not abolish any Franco-era statutes meaning, his aristocratic restoration stands. The Catholic Church was reckoned to own 20% of the country in 1931. What the Republicans confiscated, Franco restored.
The secretive Catholic order, Opus Dei, was founded in Spain in 1928. Many economists who worked in Franco’s administration came from Opus Dei. This order currently owns about $15 billion worth of real estate around the world.
The de Albas, Spain’s largest landowners, own 10,000 square kilometres. Matriarch Dona Maria de Rosario Cateyana Fitzjames-Stuart y Silva is the 18th Duchess of Alba de Tormes. She is the only child of the 17th Duke of Huescar. Her eldest son, Don Carlos, is the current Duke of Huescar. Her four other sons are each dukes with large estates. Her first husband was the Duke of Sotomayer. She is a billionaire who collects the works of the grand masters and pays the multimillion dollar prices required. De Alba landholdings remain intact, especially around Salamanca where they own a number of palaces. Other great landowners are the Aragons (5 duchies, 2 million acres), the de Cordobas (6 duchies, 2 million acres), the Bustos (3 duchies, 1.5 million acres), the de Irujos, the Vahermosos (Duke of Albuquerque), the Moscardos (Counts of Toledo) and the Moscosos (Duke of Montemar).
On Spain’s northern border lies the Archbishopric of Andorra, an independent state with a population of 70,000 and an area of 115,000 acres. The current co-rulers are the French head of state and the Catholic Bishop of Urgel. Andorran land is owned by a clique of Spanish Grandees.
Tax Havens are Neo-feudalist
Tax havens are cash stashes where the tax man from your home country can’t get at the money or even find out about it. Tax havens should not exist. When in opposition, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown promised to turn tax havens back into holiday resorts. He never delivered on this promise, and the UK continues to lose billions in taxes to “offshore” tax havens.
Estimates vary widely as to how much is in “offshore” accounts. According to the Bank for International Settlements, global cash deposits in all private banks (2004) was $14.4 trillion, of which $2.5 trillion was in the offshore system. Merrill Lynch estimated global liquid assets at $44.6 trillion, with $8.5 trillion in offshore accounts. The Boston Group estimated offshore banks held $9 trillion. Cahill (2006) puts offshore deposits at $5 trillion.
Regarding Europe, 16 polities host the offshore banks holding the loot. The best known, Switzerland, while not a monarchy, is one of Europe’s most aristocratic countries. A few families with a myriad of titles have owned most Swiss land for centuries. The wealthier of these families control several banks famous for secrecy.
Monaco’s 32,000 inhabitants are crowded into a 481 acre city-state on the Mediterranean coast. Monaco is a notorious tax haven and money laundering depot. The country is a monarchy ruled by the Grimaldi family since 1297. Reigning Prince Albert II’s net worth passed the $1 billion threshold in the 1990s. Several banks operating in Monaco are controlled by the Grimaldis who also own a quarter of the city’s buildings and a 15% stake in the Monte-Carlo Casino. The 300 square kilometres they own in France is concentrated in the Cote d’Azur/Riviera area adjacent to Monaco. They also own 200,000 acres across the USA and Canada and many properties in London.
Land-locked Liechtenstein’s population of 34,000 reside on 39,500 acres. The country is not in the EU but enjoys an open-border and customs union with Switzerland. Banking is the country’s principal economic activity. Measured in deposits, Liechtenstein is one of the world’s top three tax havens. The ruling Liechtenstein family’s fortune was pegged at $5 billion in the 1990s but is much larger now. The family is closely linked by blood and marriage with Europe’s royals for whom they provide banking services. They are the Vatican’s reserve bankers. Catholicism is the state religion. Both reigning Prince Hans Adams II and his heir, Prince Alois, were educated in law and banking at top British universities. They own a controlling interest in the country’s two largest banks and 90% of the property in the country including the real estate in the capital, Vaduz. They also own 180,000 acres spread across Switzerland, Austria and Germany, and they are in the process of purchasing and reclaiming vast lands in Eastern Europe. In 1945 Hans Adam’s father supervised the shipment of four freight trains loaded with art treasures and precious metals from Vienna to Vaduz.
The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg’s 450,000 inhabitants are clustered onto 639,000 acres. The population is 66% urban. Half the land is farms; one-third is forest. While offshore banking is a major economic activity, the Duchy also has coal mines and steel foundries. The ruling family descend from the House of Orange Nassau. Grand Duke Jean is married to Princess Josephine of Belgium. Jean’s father, who married the then reigning Grand Duchess, was a Bourbon Palma. The ruling family own 400,000 acres of Luxembourg including most of the urban land where there are 44,000 rental apartments. They own much of the country’s banking system. The Belgian Royal family owns 5,000 acres in Luxembourg. Other Belgian aristocrats own 15,000 acres. Without taking into account their assets in Luxembourg, Business Age estimated the ruling family’s net worth at $5.5 billion, but that was over 15 years ago.
Another tax haven, San Marino (population 29,000, landmass 15,000 acres), is the last surviving city-state in Italy. This independent state is internally divided among nine castle-territories where land is owned by a few ancient families.
Queen Elizabeth’s offshore banking empire consists of small islands with small populations where numerous foreigners ply the trades of banker, accountant and lawyer.
The Queen is lord of the Isle of Mann and sovereign of the islands of Jersey and Guernsey. All three are tax havens. The Isle of Mann is an autonomous country with its own laws and courts. It is not an EU member. A Queen-appointed Lieutenant Governor is acting head of state, and politics amongst the 76,000 Manx is dominated by a clique of historic landowners. Guernsey has a tax regime separate from the UK and is not in the EU. For a working population of 30,000, Guernsey has 77 banks. The island is mostly owned by seven noble families whose permission is required of any outsider seeking residence. Similarly, in Jersey six old families control the real estate, residence is tightly controlled and land prices are abnormally high.
Among the Queen’s other tax havens are Bermuda and the Caribbean islands of Antigua-Barbuda, St. Kitts-Nevis, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands and Bahamas.
Bermuda was colonized in 1609. The Queen is head of state and an honorary parliamentarian. Governance is otherwise divided between an appointed 11-member senate and an elected 36-member assembly. Bermuda is not formally in the EU but accesses EU financial markets through the City of London. 65,000 Bermudans somehow support the world’s third largest insurance market. 1,500 insurance companies are registered there. 13,000 international companies claim Bermuda as a residence. Bermuda, as a flag-of-convenience country, is home port for the world’s fifth largest shipping fleet. Actual residence in Bermuda is restricted by a variety of means including a $100,000-plus premium on house purchases. Thirty-five houses were for sale in Bermuda in 2005. Prices ranged from $2 to $20 million.
Antigua-Barbuda’s 77,000 residents are governed by antique laws facilitating offshore finance. St. Kitts-Nevis’ 46,000 citizens have average annual incomes of $7,600 yet their banks hold $21 billion.
The British Virgin Islands are home to 21,000 people and 400,000 corporations. The Queen’s Governor General is de facto chief of a government that collects few taxes and keeps fewer records.
The Cayman Islands diversified beyond offshore banking. Both US and UK governments accuse the Caymans of money laundering and drug smuggling. The Caymans were the favourite haunt of the infamous Bank of Credit and Commerce International.
The Bahamas’ 700 islands are major trans-shipment points for drugs entering the USA. The Governor General heads up a chaotic country where banking deposits exceed $25 billion.
The Dutch Royal family’s favourite tax haven is an archipelago north of Venezuela that was called the Netherland Antilles until October 10, 2010. They are now separate states but remain fiefdoms of the Dutch Crown and devices for concealing the oceanic wealth of the House of Orange Nassau. The impoverished islanders’ banks hold $100 billion in deposits. The islands warehouse heroin and cocaine bound for Europe. The US government believes the islands are major narco-money laundries.
Tax havens are neither accident nor coincidence. They arise from the aristocracies’ inner psychology, their earnest belief to be entitled to rights superior to those of ordinary people. They truly believe themselves to be above the law and, as tax havens demonstrate, they are.
Reclaim the Estates!
Dr. Otto Habsburg was the first born son of Austro-Hungarian Emperor Karl I and Empress Zita (Bourbon-Parma). Dr. Otto, who lives in Bavaria, eschews aristocratic titles, at least in public. He spent much of his life as a promoter, then member of the European Parliament. His eldest son, Karl, is also a Euro-parliamentarian. Otto’s five daughters each married high aristocrats.
In 1918 the Habsburgs owned about 4 million acres. They suffered three land seizures. In 1919 the Republic of Austria abolished aristocratic titles but did not confiscate aristocratic-owned land except for some Habsburg properties the government claimed belonged to the state. Later, because the Habsburgs opposed Austrian unification with Germany, the Nazis seized many palaces and estates. After WWII, in Hungary and Bohemia all Habsburg lands were confiscated by the communists.
Habsburgs have initiated claims in former communist countries, which, if successful, will return 2 million acres to the family. In Austria, they launched a specific bid to retrieve a collection of palaces and 50,000 acres of forest confiscated on Hitler’s direct orders. The forest alone is worth $250 million. Their total claims in Austria exceed 1 million acres. Aside from lands under dispute, the family owns some 400,000 acres in Germany and elsewhere.
Aristocrats owned much of Hungary’s 23 million acres before 1945. Hungary’s aristocracy went underground during the Cold War but has re-emerged to reclaim vast lands, especially on the central plains. The Esterhazys have re-acquired large tracts and are reintroducing bison. The Sichenis have reclaimed 200,000 acres. Hans Adam of Liechtenstein has claimed 150,000 acres. Habsburgs are focussing on one 300,000-acre claim.
In 1945 Albanian communists expropriated the country’s 100 largest landowners (one-third of the nation’s 7 million acres). In the 1990s former landowners began reclaiming land. The family of King Zog grabbed 150,000 acres while the family of Hassan Bey now possesses 75,000 acres. Muslim “waqfs” (land trusts attached to mosques) have accumulated 300,000 acres.
The 19.5 million acres comprising the Czech Republic (formerly Bohemia and Moravia) was almost entirely aristocrat-owned before the communists nationalized land in the 1940s. Many former aristocrats have returned to reclaim their acreages. Habsburgs are laying claim to over 500,000 acres and the Knights of Malta to 200,000 acres. Liechtensteins have controversial claims on immense areas.
The largest private landowners of Slovakia’s 12 million acres are agricultural companies and former aristocrats including Hans Adam of Liechtenstein.
In Russia, Yeltsin returned land seized from the Orthodox Church by the Bolsheviks. The Church received 12,000 churches, 295 monasteries, 319 convents and adjacent lands – in total 2 million acres. Since the 1990s German aristocrats, operating through limited companies, have acquired 5 million acres in western Russia while Japanese interests have purchased 1 million acres near Vladivostok.
Prior to 1922, 98% of Lithuania’s 16 million acres were aristocrat-owned. Although information is sketchy, there appears to be 7 million acres of farmland of which 1 million acres is abandoned and 1 million has been snapped up by Finnish agriculturalists. The country has 3.7 million acres of forest of which IKEA recently acquired 500,000 acres. Similarly, in Estonia (population 1.4 million; landmass 11 million acres) farmland is being purchased by private Finns and the Finnish milk cooperative. IKEA is acquiring large holdings in Estonia’s 4 million-acre forest.
The Polish situation is different. The country is more densely populated (38 million people, 77 million acres) and more cohesive than many of its neighbours. 80% of Polish farms were never collectivized under communist rule, and the 9 million acres that were collectivized have been privatized. The largest landholders are the state and the Catholic Church. Recent land acquisitions have been made by the Order of St. John, former Polish aristocrats and German land magnates.
Slovenia’s 5 million acres are half forest. Little farmland was collectivized under communist rule, and any land that was confiscated, including 67% of the forest, is being returned. In fellow former Yugoslav territory Montenegro, former landowners are in the process of reclaiming communist-seized property.
Portugal is a special land-reform case. In 1910 a republican revolution overturned 900 years of monarchical rule. In 1946 fascists overthrew the republicans and held power until the 1974 Carnation Revolution. The US State Department described pre-1974 Portugal thusly:
“Portuguese society was long cast in an almost premodern, quasifeudal mode. The system consisted of a small elite at the top, a huge mass of peasants at the bottom and almost no one in between...Social prestige, political power and economic prosperity were based on the ownership of land. The land was concentrated in large estates owned by a small elite.”
Portugal was poorer than Albania and had a more violent secret police than East Germany.
After 1974 the government engaged in land reform. Article 97 of the constitution, Abolition of Very Large Estates, subdivided estates into workable units but left ownership intact. The 6,000 men who owned 25% of Portugal (61% of farmland) were bound to long-term fixed leases at low rents. This saved the government from the debt Britain incurred buying out Irish landowners in the 1880s. Now, Portuguese landowners, backed by the European Landowners Organization, are demanding compensation. Portugal is slowly returning some land. At least one owner, Antonio Xavier Lima, has a 125,000-acre horse breeding ranch. The Catholic Church is definitely a major Portuguese landowner but official statistics are notorious. For instance, Portuguese forests are sometimes said to cover 2 million acres and sometimes 9 million acres.
European Forest Size
The size of Europe’s forests betrays any claim of land scarcity. Ireland and Iceland are the only countries where the urban landmass exceeds the forested landmass. Densely populated Belgium (10.3 million people, 7.5 million acres) allocates 1.7 million acres to forests but only half as much to urban development. Denmark’s forests cover 1.1 million acres and its “other” wasteland covers 735,000 acres. Danish urban area is 850,000 acres. Switzerland’s 10 million acres are 33% forest; an area five times the size of Swiss cities.
France’s forests, at 5.4 million acres, are slightly larger than France’s urban area, while another 8 million French acres are mountains, wasteland, etc. (If the French were land hungry, they would look across the Atlantic to their South American territory, French Guiana, where 21 million acres are 90% jungle and where the population is 156,000.)
Of Sweden’s 111 million acres, 67 million acres are forest. The EU’s entire urban area could fit inside Sweden’s forests.
Five million Finns mostly dwell within 400,000 urbanized acres. Half Finland’s 82 million acres are forest.
Western Europe’s most populous country, Germany, has lebensraum for 27 million acres of forest.
Norway has 28 million acres of forest. Italy has 17 million acres of forest. 43% of Macedonia’s 6 million acres are forest. 40% of Romania’s 58 million acres are forest. The Ukraine has 23 million acres of forest. Belarus has 17 million acres of forest.
Russia’s 1.9 billion-acre forest rivals the size of continental USA.
European Homeownership Rates
The English-speaking world is accustomed to a society where two thirds or more of households are homeowners. This is a higher homeownership rate than is found in Europe except for countries like Romania and Lithuania where governments, at the stroke of a pen, transferred public apartment blocks to tenants (and thereby walked away from responsibility for upkeep).
Half Austria’s 4 million households are renters. Denmark does slightly better with 1.3 million homeowners and 1.2 million renters. France has 16.1 million homeowners and 13.3 million renters. Dutch households are 3.5 million owned, 3.2 million rented. Finland is 58% homeowner, 42% tenant. German households are 60% renters! The lowest level of homeownership is found in Switzerland where 63% of dwellings are tenanted (the vast majority of these premises are owned by private landlords).
One impediment to homeownership is expensive land purchase/registration fees. The cost of registering a house purchase in Sweden, $107,000, is three times the average Swede’s annual income. Greek homebuyers endure a 12-step registry process, which, with taxes, costs $80,000 (five times average annual income). In France it takes 193 days to complete the ten-step registration process at a cost, with taxes, of $64,500. In Austria it costs $53,000, in Spain $51,000, in the Netherlands $75,000 and in Belgium $89,000.
America is a big empty country. Montana (94 million acres) is 25% larger than Italy yet its population (900,000) is a quarter that of Rome’s. 626,000 Alaskans share 420 million acres.
The USA’s 2.4 billion acres are divided between: 938 million acres of agricultural land, 746 million acres of forest and 678 million acres of “other” land (mountains, deserts and certain coastal areas). Urban-developed land, as defined by the Commerce Department’s Geographical Division, encompasses 59 million acres. A more expansive definition of developed land (including small towns, airports, highways, etc) yields a figure of 98 million acres. The population, circa 2006, was 295 million. Of 128 million households, 85 million were homeowners and 43 million were renters.
“Agricultural” land includes both intensively used cropland and under-used range and pasture. Many “farming” states contain swaths of under-used land. Kansas has 16 million acres of range. Missouri has 12 million acres of pasture. Other states possess unconscionable plains of empty range. Colorado has 25 million acres of range; New Mexico has 40 million acres. Barren Texas range (95 million acres) is bigger than Germany.
America largest landowners are mainly ranchers. Philanthropist and media mogul Ted Turner owns 1.8 million acres. Most of this is ranch land in New Mexico and Montana. (Turner also owns 250,000 acres in his home state of Georgia. In South Carolina he owns the 5,000-acre St. Phillips Island and the 5,000-acre Hope Plantation. The fact that he accumulated his land in his own lifetime sets him apart from most large landowners who as a rule are inheritors.) The Singleton family owns 1.2 million acres of ranch near Santa Fe and Beverly Hills. The King family own 900,000 acres in Texas, Florida and Kentucky. In California, a partnership (Dick Monfort, Rick Montera and Jack Sorrow) own the Bar One, Howard and Adobe ranches (total 47,000 acres). The Denny Land and Cattle Co. own 36,000 acres in California. The Koch family’s Montana rangeland runs to 220,000 acres, while Robert Earl owns 500,000 acres in Idaho and Montana. Gary Booth’s 125,000 acres is in Montana, Colorado and Wyoming. Larger Colorado ranches are owned by the Linnebur and Taylor families. Robert Rebholtz has a vast spread in Idaho. The 200-member Lykes family’s 650,000 acres is mainly Texas rangeland, but they also own citrus plantations in Florida.
Overall “rural USA” is owned by about 0.6% of Americans. Of 2.15 million farms, 1.4 million are owner-operated, 550,000 are part-owned and the rest are tenanted. Farmers receive around $20 billion a year in subsidy. Farmers successfully oppose free trade in agricultural goods.
(Cahill mistakenly believes farmers are preventing urban encroachment onto rural areas. It is the urban land magnates, not the farmers, who are thwarting “urban sprawl.” He is correct to say: “US landowners have hidden a good portion of rural land behind tough planning laws.” He is also correct in saying British land magnates “have been much more successful in keeping the public off rural building land than have their American counterparts.”)
Many of what are perceived as urban states are in fact overgrown with forest. New York is over half forest (total area: 35 million acres, forests 18 million acres). Pennsylvania’s 29 million acres are over half forest. Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont are each over half forest, and these are not even the big forest states. Alabama’s forests, mostly second growth, cover 23 million acres. Arkansas has 19 million acres of forest, Georgia 21 million acres, and Mississippi 17 million acres. Maine’s 22.6 million acres contain 17.6 million acres of forest.
Forestry companies are major landowners. Archie Emmerson’s Sierra Pacific Co. owns 1.5 million acres, mostly in California. The Huber clan own 800,000 acres of forest in several eastern states. Colin Mosey (Reed family) own 770,000 acres of west coast forest. Allyn Ford’s Roseburg Forest Products owns 750,000 acres in California and Oregon. The Irving brothers own 1.6 million acres, mostly in Maine, and another 2 million acres in Canada. The 70-member Pingree family own 960,000 acres of which 750,000 acres are in Maine (land purchased in the 1840s). The giants of forest ownership are International Paper, Weyerhauser, Hancock Timber and Plum Creek (the latter, a real estate investment trust owned by Georgia Pacific, has vast holdings in a dozen states).
(Cahill’s account of US land magnates is overly centered on rural/forest landowners. By his own admission, to ferret out who owns urban America would require research teams going from one county registry to the next and paying hundreds of millions of dollars in search fees. Of course, in America, as in Europe, there is much overlap between rural land magnates and urban ones.)
One type of American land magnate owns a diversified portfolio of business and land assets. They tend to diversify their land assets across several states. The Hearst dynasty’s 200,000 acres are in New York, California and elsewhere. The Forbes family’s 200,000 acres are spread across Colorado, Missouri, New Jersey and New York. The Bass family’s 300,000 acres are in eight states.
Others keep their eggs in one state. The Drummond family’s 100,000 acres are in Oklahoma. John Hampton’s 200,000 acres are all in Oregon. The Eddy family’s 160,000 acres are all in Washington. A similar pattern exists with the Sun family in Wyoming (100,000 acres), the Cassidys in Maine (110,000 acres) and the Lees of New Mexico (300,000 acres). The Collier’s entire 300,000 acres are in Florida.
Honourable mention goes to: Galen Lawrence (100,000 acres, Arizona and Missouri), Leon Hirsch (100,000 acres, Connecticut, Montana and Wyoming), Samuel Damon’s estates (120,000 acres, California and Hawaii), Peter Jackson (100,000 acres, California, Nevada, Idaho and Oklahoma), A. W. Moursand (150,000 acres over several states), John Irwin (225,000 acres, Arizona, California and New York), Peter Taggares (115,000 acres mostly in Washington), the Elwood family (250,000 acres, Texas, Illinois, New Mexico and Connecticut), the Collins family (300,000 acres, Pennsylvania, Oregon and California), J.R. Simplot (310,000 acres, California, Idaho and Oregon) and Dennis Washington (100,000 acres, Montana and Oregon). James Boswell’s heirs own 100,000 acres in Arizona and another 100,000 in California. James Campbell’s heirs own developed properties in Hawaii (90,000 acres) and in fifteen other states, mostly Arizona (50,000 acres).
Major institutional landowners include MIT and Harvard, both with large holdings in Boston. In Michigan, General Motors owns 150,000 acres and Ford owns 100,000. Oil companies have significant holdings in Texas, while tobacco companies have the same in West Virginia. The Nature Conservancy’s many properties include 61,000 acres in California’s Central Valley, two Colorado ranches with a combined acreage of 197,000, and an 185,000-acre forest in Maine. The Catholic Church’s landholdings in the USA may be worth $250 billion. The Catholic Church is the second-largest landowner in New York City where its 6,000 acres are valued between $20 and $50 billion. During legal proceedings arising from sex scandals, it was revealed that the Boston Archdiocese owned property worth around $1.35 billion. The Mormon Church owns significant realty in Salt Lake City and elsewhere in Utah.
The five Mafia families are reckoned by the FBI to own $2.5 billion of New York City real estate as well as other land in New York State and New Jersey.
Native-controlled corporations own large tracts. In 1971, 43 million acres were given to Alaskan natives. This land was split into several entities that are now Alaska’s largest private landowners. In Arizona native tribes own 8.2 million acres. In Hawaii, the Kamehameha School Investment Trust owns 360,000 acres, while two other native trusts own a total of 18,500 acres.
The US Federal Government owns 760 million acres – 31.3% of the country. The Federal Government owns 46 million acres of California – almost half the state. It owns a similar share of Arizona’s 72 million acres and Wyoming’s 62 million acres. It owns 63% of Idaho and Utah. Nevada boasts 70 million acres, and the Feds own 85% of them. Federal land is nearly all undeveloped wilderness. Relentless environmental activism and bureaucratic obstruction prevent the transfer of this land to those who would make better use of it. If the Federal Government were truly short of cash, it would sell this land at fire sale prices, say $5,000 an acre, and raise $3.8 trillion.
Australia and Canada
Australia and Canada are far emptier than the USA. In both countries land policy is in the hands of bureaucrats who, at the behest of landowning oligarchs, suppress development.
Australia has 20 million people on 1.9 billion acres of which 59% is unallocated Crown land. The population is 91% urban. Of 7.3 million dwellings, 5 million are owned (over half mortgage-free) and 2.3 million are rented.
Large landowners include 15 Aboriginal entities with a total of 245 million acres for 290,000 people.
Ten private landholdings exceed 4 million acres. Stanbroke Pastoral Co., a consortium of beef and potato magnates, owns 26 million acres. Kidman Holdings (24 million acres) is owned by the Ayers and Kidman families. Executive John Ayers is a grandson of founder Sir Sidney Kidman. (Having friends in high places has not hurt Nicole’s acting career.) Media tycoon Kerry Packer owns 12.8 million acres.
Canada has 32 million people and 2.46 billion acres. 90% of Canada is Crown land of which 50% is administered by the Federal government and 40% by the provinces. Native people, especially the Inuit, have been given huge tracts as Crown leases.
Canadian farms cover 166 million acres. The 246,000 farms average 675 acres in size. 62 million acres are owner-operated, 104 million are leased.
Of 11.6 million private dwellings, 64% are owned by the occupants.
Forests blanket 45% of Canada (1 billion acres). Forests are 94% state-owned.
Canada’s urban area covers 6 million acres. National parks cover 55 million acres.
Five times aristocratic reactionary waves swept Europe. The first followed the French Revolution. The second followed the upheavals of 1848. The third crept imperceptibly from 1871 to the neo-feudalist Gotterdammerung of World War One. The fourth, fascism, swelled against the revolutions born of WWI until, by 1941, it inundated Europe from Moscow’s gates to Dover’s cliffs. The fifth, environmentalism, crept from 1960 to the present where again it is on the lip of engulfing its industrial-capitalist nemesis.
Kings and Queens are all green. The exploits of Princes Bernhard and Phillip in founding the WWF, etc. are well known. Prince Charles carries on his father’s crusade, as do Bernhard’s brood. Monaco’s Prince Albert II is an outspoken enviro-philanthropist. His father was the money and entre nous behind Jacques Cousteau’s vermilion juggernaut. The King of Sweden and the Crown Prince of Denmark are both eco-activists. Reciting the litany of green princes runs the risk of implying conspiracy. Environmentalism is not a conspiracy but a public project supported by a million landowners. Aristocrats are the leaders of this constituency, not its builders. Moreover, glommed onto environmentalism are commercial enterprises, non-government organizations and political parties, making for an amalgam too vast and variegated for any cabal of crowns to command.
The Climate Change and Land Scarcity campaigns are simultaneous agitation-propaganda projects conducted by the same people. Both campaigns lobby for specific state policies. Climate Change policy recommendations include preventing deforestation and promoting reforestation because, it is claimed, forests are CO2 sinks. Climate Change campaigners also promote agricultural practices such as permaculture and reduced tillage, again to trap CO2. The Land Scarcity campaign, on the rural front, is an effort by agriculturalists to restrict farmland and farm output in order to maintain high land and food prices. These campaigners are naturally hostile to any clearing of forests for the purpose of expanding farmland, and they too favour policies de-intensifying farmland utilization. Thus, both campaigns arrive at the same policies via different pretexts.
Likewise, “alternative energy” is movement code for “land-based” energy. Climate Change activists promote wind, solar and bio-fuel energy. Most wind turbines and solar panels are situated on land rented from rural landowners. America’s rural landowners charge $3,000 to $15,000 per year per wind turbine. Wealthy rural landowners, in Europe and America, often own the turbines outright. In many jurisdictions infrastructure has been built to allow solar and wind farm operators to feed their electricity into the main grid at prices subsidized far in excess of wholesale electricity prices. To benefit from solar and wind farm programs, one must first have the acres. Similarly, bio-fuel energy programs force consumers to buy low-volatility, engine-damaging, over-priced ethanol-blended fuel. This ethanol comes from rural landowners. Burning food drives up food and fuel prices. Bio-fuel edicts create a captive market for rural landowners. Climate Change energy activism seeks to redirect economic resources away from the hydrocarbon industry and toward rural landowners.
Here are two examples of “alternative electricity” in the contemporary European context:
On one of his sprawling Bavarian estates, multi-billionaire Prince Thurn and Taxis is constructing a 475-acre solar farm capable of supplying 18,000 homes with electricity. German renewable energy subsidies guarantee the Prince $25 million a year in net income for this project. (3)
Prince Charles favours offshore wind power. The Crown Estates, which he will inherit, own the sea-bed around Britannia to a distance of 12 nautical miles. To run cables across this sea-bed, wind power producers must pay rent. The Crown Estates (stuck in legal limbo since 1760) now give 15% of these wind power sea-bed rents to the monarch. At current rates of offshore wind development, this will translate into $50 million in net annual revenue to Charles III by 2020. (4)
On a separate note, Cahill’s work suffers from a blind spot regarding non-residential urban land. Cahill’s main grievance is that sinister land-use policies and farm subsidies keep vast fields of under-used land off the residential market, thereby thwarting poor people’s aspirations for homeownership. Thus, he narrows attention to urban residential land and the surrounding rural acres. But capitalists are tenants too. Shopping malls, retail strips, industrial parks, office towers, etc. are rarely owned by their business tenants. These buildings are owned by the same cartels of landlords who own most rented property. Hence the phony war on “urban sprawl” does not just punish residential tenants and house builders; it is a major drag on the entire economy afflicting the majority of the population.
Cahill bogs down in legalese. True, citizens of Britain, Canada, Australia and elsewhere do not “own” land but rather possess a medieval tenure called “freehold” or “an interest in land in fee simple.” The “fee” refers to a token paid to represent the fact that the freeholder is actually a tenant of the monarch. Not all the world’s 35 monarchs claim to own all land within their realms, but most do. In countries such as Ireland and China, the state stepped into the monarch’s shoes and claims ultimate land ownership. In the alternative “allodial” system, found in France, USA and Switzerland, citizens actually own land. However, Cahill concedes: “The Queen’s residual right to absolute ownership of land is a feudal nonsense, and is unenforceable in any practical way against the population in general.” In countries where the state or monarch is the ultimate landowner, not only do citizens believe they own property, courts treat them as owners. Cahill further concedes that even where “allodial” systems exist, states can expropriate private property. Most importantly, there is no correlation between allodial systems and higher degrees of homeownership. Ireland, with its feudalistic legalese, has one of Europe’s highest levels of homeownership while allodial Switzerland has the lowest. Despite this, Cahill sacrifices an unconscionable amount of his text on this issue. Worse, he burdens himself with awkward rhetoric because of his reluctance to use the term “ownership.” He often violates his own rules and refers to homeownership when he means freehold. Hence: for the purpose of this abridgement “freehold” is a synonym for “own.”
Cahill bounces freely from British pounds, US dollars and euros in reference to economic quanta occurring between the mid-1990s to 2006. This review converts all money estimates to US dollars, and while changing exchange rates were factored in, there is an unavoidable fudge factor.
Sunday Times, December 3, 2009
Mail on Sunday, October 24, 2010
Cahill, Kevin; Who Owns the World: The Hidden Facts Behind Landownership. Mainstream Publishing, Edinburgh and London, 2006