L. Neil Smith's

Number 4, January 1996

Must Future Generations Honor Washington's 'Extortion Futures'?

By Vin Suprynowicz

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

         Last week, I brought up would-be Libertarian presidential nominee Harry Browne's plan to sell off all the "federal lands" in the West to pay off the billions in Extortion Futures sold by Republicrats over the past 40 years, as well as to set up "annuities for the needy."
         Of course, there are good reasons to doubt Washington City has clear title to those lands, at all.
         But even if Washington can claim title, there's good reason to believe that jurisdiction was granted only for the purpose of facilitating the quick and orderly patenting and homesteading of those lands. That was the clear precedent set by the way Washington disposed of its holdings in the Mississippi Valley between 1815 and 1830 -- receiving minimal fixed fees the title transfers, not huge windfalls at auction.
         Anyway, let's try to picture such a sale. For efficiency's sake, what would be the minimum parcel, the minimum bid? Tens of thousands of acres; billions of dollars? Imagine fourth-generation American ranchers, logger and miners standing by in their plaid shirts and workboots, tears streaming down their cheeks, as bidders talking on cellular phones to their bosses in Kuwait, Tokyo and Zurich snap up those huge parcels, handing eviction notices to families who have worked those lands for 100 years.
         That is, assuming the residents of the Western states merely reach for their hankies, instead of their guns. Now there would be a picture -- a Libertarian president calling out the troops to put armed Americans off grandpa's land.
         For make no mistake: These "public lands," though usually arid or mountainous, are not empty. They're occupied by American families, some in the fourth generation.
         Often, a private homestead of 600 acres on a spring or creek is surrounded by thousands of acres of "government land," leased to the homesteader.
         And because of arid conditions, the 600 acres they're actually allowed to claim -- by Eastern politicians who assume you can make a living on 600 acres in Nevada or Idaho, the same as you could in Alabama or Kentucky -- won't support that family. They survive only because of their title to grazing (or mining) rights on the adjoining "government land," a title which existed before the Grazing Rights Act, and which is specifically recognized by that Act -- for all that Bruce Babbitt and the collectivists now shacked up in Washington City would like to deny such title exists.
         I realize the mixed title to many arid Western lands -- one person can own the mineral rights, another the water or grazing rights -- can be confusing. But surely anyone who proposes to sell off these lands would want to have a good grasp of the issue before pitching his auction tent. I suggest Wayne Hage's Book "Storm Over Rangelands," available from Stewards of the Range in Idaho, 208-336-5922.
         Yes, the Western lands should be privatized, and fast. But this should be done through homesteading, in the great American tradition, so they pass into the hands of working citizens who will have a vested interest in land use decisions -- not some foreign scheme of multi-generational poverty under which tenant farmers can never accrue the capital to buy the land they work.
         The objection is raised that the retirement funds of many working-class Americans are partially invested in government bonds, which could eventually default without such a land seizure and sale.
         But isn't it better to point out to those workers that what they've bought into are really Extortion Futures, which can only be paid off through the taxation of their own children and grandchildren at ever-increasing rates? Shouldn't we tell them while there's still time that -- absent this promise to bleed the money by armed force in future years -- the federal government is already bankrupt?
         George Orwell's "Ministry of Truth" offered no truth. Even though the sign over the camp entrance said "Arbeit Macht Frei" ("Work Shall Make Your Free,") no amount of work would make you free. And there is no "Liberty Tax Plan."
         To criticize a Libertarian presidential candidate today -- a real one, like Mr. Browne's leading opponent, national jury rights spokesman, four-time state party chairman, and former U.S. Senate candidate Rick Tompkins of Arizona -- for not having any "Liberty Tax Plan" of his own, is like ridiculing Messrs. Washington, Adams, and Jefferson for asserting that we would have no new king. After all, didn't everyone have a king?
         To ask the question is to fail to realize that the paradigm is shifting. That there is to be no "new tax plan" is as hard for some to comprehend today as it was for some in 1781 to grasp that there would be no new king.
         That's why the supposed division in the Libertarian Party, between those who would use the party as a vehicle to "educate," and those who would run serious political campaigns, is -- finally -- an illusory one.
         The sons of liberty have plenty more education to do before they can gather even a sizeable plurality to the cause of personal and economic freedom. And one of the best ways to do that job is to run political candidates -- "real" ones not in the sense that they'll trade their principles for handfuls of votes, but in the sense that they're enthusiastic, articulate, effective ministers of the faith of freedom.
         Initial unanimity is neither likely nor healthy as Libertarians seek such candidates. But when trying to judge the best calf at the fair, when the definition of "calf" has been decided long ago, shall we really spend time discussing whether the pig who has wandered into the pen is in some ways "just as good an animal" as the calves we've been brought here to choose among?
         He may be a very fine pig, indeed. But let him be taken back to the swine barn, and judged against others of his kind.

Vin Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Readers may reach him via e-mail at vin@terminus.intermind.net. His column is syndicated in the United States and Canada via Mountain Media Syndications, P.O. Box 4422, Las Vegas, Nevada 89127.

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