Property Rights and Federal Land Policy

Gary D. Libecap

in Government & The American Economy

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print May 2007 | ISBN: 9780226251271
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226251295 | DOI:
Property Rights and Federal Land Policy

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Throughout the economic history of the United States, most decisions regarding resource use and answers to questions regarding what, how, and for whom to produce have been based on private property rights and market incentives. Although the institution of private property was well established in Europe and followed European immigrants as they migrated to North America, its strong position throughout the American economy was promoted by the establishment of secure private property rights to land. This chapter describes the long-term development of the American system of private property rights and the policies adopted by the federal government to distribute public lands. It first considers the role of private property rights in an economy and why they are the fundamental institution for markets. It then examines how American land policy worked, where it was successful, and where it was not. It shows that federal land policy worked well for agricultural lands in the eastern United States and for mineral lands in the West but less well for agricultural lands in the semiarid West and for non-agricultural timberlands.

Keywords: federal land policy; property rights; private property; United States; public lands; economy; mineral lands; timberlands; agricultural lands; federal government

Chapter.  10272 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Economic History

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