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Customer Review

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Almanac with a twist, January 22, 2010
This review is from: Who Owns the World: The Surprising Truth About Every Piece of Land on the Planet (Paperback)
Who Owns The World? The Surprising Truth About Every Piece of Land on The Planet is an encyclopedic accounting of land ownership on our globe. It is packed with fascinating facts: Did you know that Queen Elizabeth owns 1/6th of all the land on earth? Did you know that the largest private landowner in the U.S. is Ted Turner, who owns 1,800,000 acres of land? (Yes, all those zeroes belong in that number.) Have you ever heard of the British Indian Ocean Territory, a land area of 14,720 acres which is now believed to be used as a prison for those captured in the war on terror?

Though most of the 369-page paperback is devoted to information about who controls every square inch of land, authors Kevin Cahill and Rob McMahon explain their purpose in putting this book together:
This book asserts that the main cause of most remaining poverty in the world is an excess of landownership in too few hands. This book will also assert that private ownership of a very small amount on land - one-tenth of an urban acre or an acre or two of rural land - granted to every person on the planet has the potential to, and, I believe, begin ending poverty on a global basis. The book will go further and reassert that the right to the direct ownership of land is a fundamental human right.

After a 60-page introduction that unpacks these assertions, the remainder of the book surveys every country of the world, giving information about population, size, gross national income, percentage of land held by private owners, a line or two about the country's history, and an explanation of how the country is owned.

The book doesn't offer solutions to the inequalities presented in the book (a handful of kings, queens, sheiks, religious institutions and individuals control most of the land on earth) or do much to tackle the dicey issues of political and/or ethnic identity that have shaped most modern nation-states. But then again, it isn't meant to do so. Who Owns The World? tells a compelling, unsettling story with stats, and is an interesting reference tool for students and those interested in international politics.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 28, 2010 10:36:00 AM PST
The Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto has analysed the difficulties and the importance of increasing landholding by the poor in the Third - and Fourth - Worlds in his book "The Mystery of Capital". The problem is that the legal regimes in many places make it almost impossible to get good title to a piece of land for a reasonable price. We take this legal structure for granted in the developed countries. In most of the world good title is only available to the elites. Without good title, it is impossible to finance a small business and rise out of poverty, no matter how hard you work. So just granting land to peasants is not enough. There has to be a system of laws that guarantees good title. Systems like Hinduism, Islam, Communism and other totalitarianisms just don't allow this goal to be achieved. However, this book looks like it could provide useful information to help find a solution.

About the claim that Queen Elizabeth owns one sixth of the world - that sounds like an extreme exaggeration of her Majesty's actual power or control over places like Canada and Australia which are in fact if not in legal theory independent countries. I'll have to read the book to find out what the context of that statement is!

Posted on Jan 28, 2010 10:51:30 AM PST
Lee21044 says:
I have not read the book, but I find the claim about Q. Elizabeth a little hard to swallow. There is a distiction between what the Queen owns as an individual and what she holds in the name of the crown. For instance, Queen Eliabeth I & II (I of Scotland/II of England) in Scotland owns in the name of the crown all the land below the mean high watermark on the shoreline of Scotland. While the strip of land maybe narrow, considering the amount of shoreline there is in Scotland, the amount of shoreline she "owns" I am sure amounts to a very large number in agregate. The shoreline or foreshore imay be owned by the Queen, but Elizabeth cannot sell it. I am not sure who owns the foreshore in England, Wales or N. Ireland.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 28, 2010 11:44:10 AM PST
Land ownership in countries where Queen Elizabeth is sovereign has a quirk that comes down from earlier times. Land ownership in these countries is referred to as "fee simple" and it is genuine ownership. However, the Queen is still sovereign, meaning that in some sense all the territory is 'hers'. You do really own the land, but there are limits. For example, if you own land on the US border you cannot one day decide that you are going to change countries. I believe that the same limits apply in the US and other countries. So the claim that the Queen owns 1/6 of the earth's land surface is very misleading. She does own a fair whack of land personally, though. Just of a different order of magnitude.

Posted on Jan 28, 2010 5:04:37 PM PST
H. Bramlet says:
I agree with Robert Speirs. The problem isn't that some warlord in Somalia owns land, preventing its inhabitants from rising above the fold. The problem is that even if you did depose that lord and give everyone contracts to land, there would be NO WAY to enforce it. Similar things happened in the US West when settling started. You had claim-squaters, Indians and robber barons. These people consolidated lots of land under their belt- not because they "earned" the capacity to buy it, but because they, in some way or another, coerced the rightful owners off the land.

This isn't to say that I agree with the premise that poverty would be eliminated if everyone just had their own stretch of land. Sure, we could give a mountain top to Poor Man A. But what is he going to do with it? Is he going to start a mining operation? How do we determine if Poor Man B got an equally valuable or usable piece of land? What if Poor Man A sucks at mining, but Poor Man B is good at it? Does their respective ability to exploit the different lands- from knowledge about land-dependent trades to their individual work ethic or dreams-change that value? I know that the review admits that the author's fail to answer this...Because they can't. It is a utopian's pipe dream.

We just had a massive housing crash that was at least partially the result of everyone swooning over the idea that Americans should all own property. But frankly, such things aren't necessary. Ownership is just a type of capital. But sometimes capital is best deployed elsewhere- to education, labor or other durable goods. There is no one-size-fits-all method for serving each poor person's needs.
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