Sunday, March 16, 2014

"An unintended lesson in the advantages of private property rights"

The US government owns massive amounts of land that's worth possibly trillions that it doesn't even know it owns spending billions a year maintaining it. I wonder how much better Canada is. Ilya Somin writes (WashingtonPost):

The whole situation is an unintended lesson in the advantages of private property rights. If a private owner has a piece of unused property, he or she has strong incentives to find some valuable use for it. If he can’t, he has a strong incentive to sell it to someone else who can do better. In both cases, he gets to keep the profit. For that reason, he also has incentives to keep track of the property he owns, and avoid imposing burdensome bureaucratic procedures that make it difficult to sell unused land.

By contrast, government officials get little or no reward for finding better uses for underutilized government land. Indeed, a conscientious bureaucrat who tries to do so may just end up annoying his colleagues and superiors, for whom it means extra hassle with little chance of any gain. For similar reasons, government agencies sometimes have little incentive to even keep track of the land they own, or to make it easy to sell unneeded property.

In theory, voters could incentivize efficient use of government-owned resources by using the power of the ballot box to punish politicians who let them go to waste. In reality, however, widespread voter ignorance makes this unlikely. Most voters have little if any idea of how efficiently the federal government uses the vast amount of land it owns. Like government bureaucrats, voters have little incentive to keep track of government-owned property and assess whether it is being used effectively. Each individual voter has only a tiny chance of affecting the results of an election, and this leads to rational political ignorance.

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