Friday, January 19, 2007

Questionably Landless

This story from Venezuela is really sad. The article claims that about 150 people have been murdered as they try to cultivate land as directed by peoples Hero Hugo Chavez. So, they are out in the hot sun cultivating land, and a mercenary army comes up and shoots them. This story is supposed to show that the free market doesn't work and that we need a powerful dictator to save us.

The guy cultivating the land doesn't actually have title to the land. He was just out their bravely cultivating it. Apparently Venezuelan peasants are being encouraged to go out and cultivate fallow land in an effort to elimate poverty; So, people are running around cultivating land. The article says people are finding little pieces of state parks or private land that is fallow and going for it.

The article implies that landlords are doing the killing. Since this sounds like a free for all land grab. I wouldn't be surprised if a few of the peasants themselves are killing people who've grabbed the land that they want to grab. The murderers might even be drug lords or criminal elements who demand protection money for the people out cultivating fields.

The article states the opinion that the existence of undeveloped resources is a market failure. I find that odd, In the developed world, there is often a concerted effort to keep large sections of land undeveloped. People value nature. In a free market where people are able to use their resources as they deem fit, we find a large number of people buying easements and donating land to trusts like The Nature Conservancy. This donating an easement for nature conservancy is one of the sublime exercises of the free market.

It is elitist as all get out...but that elderly couple donating an easement on their land for openspace is, in my elitist opinion, and act of great beauty. On this little warming globe of ours, fallow land should be considered a good thing.

As an elitist prig, I also happen to love small organic farms. Yeah, I am willing to pay an extra 20 cents a pound for apples with spots. I go to the farmers market so taht the evil grocery stores get fewer of my consumer dollars.

I love small organic farms, but it seems to me that for small organic farms to do their magic of preserving the land, the small organic farmer needs to have title to the land. This thing where you cultivate land but don't own it leads to the tragedy of the commons. Since the equity of the land is not part of the equation, the people playing this land grab are less likely to do the things needed for long term sustainability.

It sounds to me like Venezuela has big problems with the distribution of capital. The land is tied up by just a few concerns that were good at grabbing the land in the past. I don't think Venezuela is going to solve its problems of past land grabbing with a new wave of land grabbing. In such systems, the person who is best at killing takes all. I think Hernando de Soto was on a better track with The Mystery of Capital. In this work, de Soto puts forward the thesis that it is in creating a process where people have clear title to land that they thrive.

I feel so bad for Jesus Guerrero who followed his bubbling populist leader's command and went forth to cultivate land. I am even sadder thinking that Senor Guerrero died on land that he did not own, nor would he ever end up owning in the peoples paradise of Venezuela.

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