Who Owns America?
‘Who owns America’ is both the title of a current book by Harvey Jacobs and a good question to ask.
Exact ownership figures are difficult to come by. Landownership changes constantly and dramatically. It does not sit still to be counted. There are over fifty-eight thousand governments in our country. Not all data are maintained, or recorded in the same manner, or made available. The best acreage counts come from the Department of Agriculture, but, of course, their numbers do not include non-farm numbers. So, no certainties are possible, but approximations will suffice. Best tallies place about forty to forty-four percent of the land area of these United States in the public column. That counts local, state and federal government land. What can be said about the remaining fifty-six to sixty percent that falls in the private column?
Jacobs, referencing a 1993 study by Geisler, writes that seventy-five percent of all of that private acreage is in the hands of the top 5% of landowners. Those are “people” like Champion International Paper who counts one million acres of Texas within its total holdings.
The stunning figure is that 78% of all landowners hold title to a mere three percent of the private acres. As Jacobs has put it, “Despite the perception of widespread landownership among America’s peoples, the 1980 study found private land in the United States in the hands of only 34 million owners. Nothing in the last two decades suggests that this pattern of private landownership is changing for the better.”