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Plundered Promise: Capitalism, Politics, and the Fate of the Federal Lands

5.0 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1559638487
ISBN-10: 1559638486
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Federally owned lands, which make up about one-third of the land area of the United States, are in constant danger of being plundered, thanks to governmental corruption and predatory economics--forces that endanger not only the public domain, but also society at large.

"That is not a modest set of complaints," writes Richard Behan, whose book traces the start-and-stop development of federal land ownership and management over the last two centuries. That system, he writes, borrows from the European tradition of "crown lands," created by fiat to reserve areas from general use; benefiting more than a handful of nobles, the system also incorporates elements of Native American beliefs about the common ownership and stewardship of land. This development of a common estate, Behan argues, was not articulated to protect lands from a resource-hungry, uncontrolled economy that turns public services into private goods, which is their condition today. The resultant degradation of public lands, he continues, points to the need for new methods and models of management that emphasize conservation and preservation, not resource use.

Behan's wide-ranging, sometimes even scattershot book is provocative, and it is likely to excite discussion among those on all sides of public-lands controversies. Given current efforts to develop resources on federal reserves, it is also timely, and of much interest to environmental activists and students of resource policy alike. --Gregory McNamee

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Island Press (March 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1559638486
  • ISBN-13: 978-1559638487
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,256,629 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Seahurst Publishing on October 30, 2001
Format: Hardcover
A lot of people might find Behan's book illuminating. Among them: anyone whose job moved overseas to a cheaper labor force; anyone who has looked from the window of a commercial airplane flying from Seattle to Los Angeles and marveled at the size of clearcuts on public forestland. Anyone who has wondered why the treasury doesn't receive fair value for the minerals extracted from publicly owned land, for the grazing rights, for the timber and for the water resource. Beyond the public land issues Behan addresses, the book is is an informative read for anyone who has wondered why there is no public agenda in the United States -- and, instead, a plethora of interest groups and PACs that shape the direction of legislation. As an aside, the book is a civics lesson for all of us who wonder why we find ourselves voting against the least-unappealing candidate in a two-way race instead of choosing enthusiastically from among outstanding candidates. Forestry professionals should read it in hopes of renewing the passion, optimism and zeal with which they began their careers. Behan is a scholar, and the work is carefully written and the cases he makes are well-documented. Yet there's sparkle in the prose. Even so the book isn't an easy read. The facts he presents are depressing, and the hopeful recommendations Behan makes at the end seem ever so far from being adopted. Or even considered in my lifetime.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is worthwhile reading for anyone who proclaims a political opinion, or perhaps simply draws a breath. It is not an unbiased book, and you are unlikely to agree with every argument. I don't, but, after teaching forest policy and economics to university students for 25 years, I regret not having had the advantage of this book as a text. It would ideally complement a standard text in an undergraduate policy course, and it would serve well as core reading in a graduate seminar, supplemented by books on related topics. Several good choices, in fact, are cited in "Plundered Promise."

Behan is an engaging, provocative writer so his description of the evolution of land use policy in the United States is entertaining as well as instructive. He makes clear the process by which we have moved from the capitalistic ideal of individual private property ownership of all lands to one of reserving some lands to be held in common, and provides a logical defense for why we did it. The rationale, he notes, for maintaining such a "public good" has grown stronger with time. These public lands are a collective national treasure like no other in the world.

Behan then makes the case that we are hell-bent to squander this "promise" of the book's title. The great evil in this story is our unwitting, and presumably unwilling collaboration with modern (huge) corporations in a senseless, wasteful social party of conspicuous consumption. Modern corporations, many with global reach and stunning political and financial command, attempt to create demand for their massive and efficient production by devising market strategies to convince us to over consume; to acquire material goods as a measure of our social success and prosperity.
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Format: Hardcover
Mr. Behan's main theme in PLUNDERED PROMISE is how political and economic overshoot has led to the increasing plunder of public lands for private profit. His deeper look at how the growth of corporations, hyperconsumerism, and centralized oligarchical government has led to the plundering and degradation of US Federal lands frames our present Bush administration problems and he directs the reader to authors such as Cobb-Daly, Kemmis, Prugh, Yaffee, etc. for workable, practical solutions.
After a synoptic opening chapter, there are chapters on the first century of public land management, the rise of corporate capitalism at the start of the 20th century, the rise of professional management and 'sustained yield' at mid-century and finally, "The Economics and Politics of License: Corruption and Predatation, 1976 to the Present.
Behan's development of the concept of economic and political overshoot and how it effected public lands is of key importance to environmentalists. The history of the development of governmental subsidization of private use of public lands and the momentum of the growth economy in degrading forests, overgrazing grasslands, overfishing the commons, etc. is crucial. Revoking corporate charters and devolving government out of Washington to local 'neighbourhoods' are revolutionary tactics advocated to get the philistines out of the temple.
Good as Korten, Greider and Klein. Well worth your while.
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Format: Hardcover
Behan explains in fascinating detail many of the quirks -- mostly intentional -- that make our government behave today the way it does. The convoluted process that got George Bush elected is only a glimpse of the deep issues. He explains how it is virtually impossible, and has been since our foundation, to say we have rule by majority in our government. This is all explored from a foundation of federal land policy, but applies equally to the rest of our governmental operations. It was eye opening, and angering, to learn how we got where we are.
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