There are 36 million unmortgaged owner-occupied American homes (Bloomberg News 2012), and 68.4 mortgaged homes, which we count to the ownership of the banks and financial institutions. The average national median home lot size is 12,632 square feet or about 1/3 of an acre. 36 million homes x 1/3 of an acre = 12 million acres.
That is less than the 25 biggest landowners in America, who own 20 million acres, i.e. the 25 biggest landowners in America own more land than all American unmortgaged homeowners put together.
Even if we were to include ALL occupied homes, even the mortgaged ones, we would get only 38 million acres. And if we take all homes, including also those not occupied, a total of 132.6 millions homes, the median lot size gives us a total of only 44 million acres.
American homeowners -- and this is the inflated TOTAL -- thus own at best 2% of the land of the USA, and if we use unmortgaged owner-occupied homes as the standard, they own 1/2 of 1% of the total land of the USA. The federal and State governments own somewhere between 42 and 48%, so that 50% of the land of the USA -- the best land for agricultural and economic use, which is mostly East of the Rockies -- is owned by vested private interests.
We were brought to this issue by an article by Ross Douthat at the New York Times on Our Revolting Elites and Romney's famous 47% comment, which shows the extent of the current polarization of wealth, income and politics in the United States.
Jonathat Haidt and Marc J. Hetherington at the New York Times blog Campaign Stops in Look How Far We've Come Apart note, for example, that Congress is so polarized today that it is mathematically impossible to get any worse.
They suggest that polarization may be reduced in coming decades, which we doubt as long as current inequalities of wealth and income continue. People do not part willingly with what they "have", even if they have wealth far in excess of what they sensibly need. So how can "change" be accomplished? History provides sobering lessons to the greedy.
In the United States, only the Civil War led to an abandonment of formal slavery and the economic system affiliated with it (there is still a lot of informal slavery around).
In Europe, two world wars in the past century deposed many of the ruling elites of the Continent, most significantly in Germany and Russia, making way for change and new developments, and even there, you have new ruling elites in spite of the overthrow of the older elites. It is an endless process true to the old saying that "The King is dead. Long live the [new] King."
In some countries, the ruling elites have been retained, and the nobility in the United Kingdom is one example. Robert Home of Anglia Law School writes in Land ownership in the United Kingdom: Trends, preferences and future challenges:
"Unlike much of continental Europe, the UK has experienced little major redistribution of land ownership since the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century, apart from the temporary growth of state land ownership in the 20th century, some of which was reversed during the 1980's."That was the vested system of ownership, rights and privileges that led to the founding of America by the colonists.
Americans -- immigrants all -- wanted to escape that system.
America thus presents a special case, since almost all U.S. land was initially owned by the federal government, i.e. by the people as a whole, and not by the wealthy vested interests we find as owners today. See History of Land Ownership in the United States. Indeed, even today almost half of all U.S. land is owned by federal or local governments, i.e. by the people.
Robert J. Smith (President, Center for Private Conservation & Senior Adjunct Scholar Competitive Enterprise Institute, Washington, D.C.; Speech to the Eighth Annual Conference on Private Property Rights, PRFA, Albany, N.Y. , October 23, 2004) wrote in Landownership in America that America has the most socialistic form of land ownership on the planet.
The specific statistics are misleading, however, as follows.
Of 2.27 total billion acres in the USA, the federal government owns 643.2 million acres, of which about 1/3 are in Alaska, leaving about 400 million acres or about 20% of all land in the continental United States. Of that land, almost all of that land is in the western part of the United States (mountains, desert).
For example, the federal government owns ca. 83% of Nevada and ca. 44% of California. The best land agriculturally and economically was in the the East and -- because of various government land grants over the years -- much land was gifted into private ownership through various Congressional acts (i.e. the people's land was largely given away by Congress), e.g.
- 94 million acres to the railroads
- 328 million acres were given away to States by virtue of Statehood (e.g. to schools , "land grant" colleges, etc.)
- 591 million acres were given away to private ownership for settlement of land (cheap purchases, homesteading and a lot simply by fraud).
- In modern times a lot of Alaskan land previously owned was also simply given away to Alaska and to the Native Americans.
Rightly or wrongly - it was YOUR money, and it was a massive amount of wealth that was simply gifted, for political reasons, to State and private owners, by your elected representatives in Congress. YOU elected them.
If the federal government had not given away half the land it once owned to private interests over the years, we, the people, would own almost everything, rather than this ownership being in the hands of the wealthy elites who control that land now and want to take all the spoils.
How much does an average American now own in terms of private land? VIRTUALLY NOTHING. Indeed, when we consider how much land an average American owns, we begin to understand the extent to which the country has been plundered and sold out to private interests over the years.
Let us look at the ca. 1.3 billion privately owned acres in the United States. Who owns that land?
We find that there are 132.6 million U.S. homes of which 18.5 million were vacant in the first quarter of 2012, according to Bloomberg News on April 30, 2012, i.e. 114 million homes. We presume the vacant homes are largely owned by banks. According to the Bureau of Census, 31.6% (36 million homes) of owner occupied homes had no mortgage, while the remainder of 68.4% (78 million) were mortgaged, i.e. essentially still owned by banks.
The average national median home lot size is 12,632 square feet or about 1/3 of an acre. 36 million homes x 1/3 of an acre = 12 million acres. Even if we were to include ALL occupied homes, even the mortgaged ones, we would get 38 million acres. And if we take all homes, including also those not occupied, a total of 132.6 million homes, the median lot size gives us a total of 44 million acres for American homes.
American homeowners -- and this is the TOTAL -- thus own at best 2% of the land of the USA, and if we use unmortgaged owner-occupied homes as the standard, they own 1/2 of 1% of the total land of the USA. The federal and State governments own somewhere between 42 and 48%, so that 50% of the land of the USA is owned by vested private interests, a small minority composed of the wealthiest individuals and corporations.
These are surely the same people who are complaining about taxes.