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This land is their land

You must have heard the song by Woody Guthrie:

This land is your land,
This land is my land, … 

It should be, but in fact it isn’t. Many millions of working people own no land at all. Those who are a bit better off own the small plot on which their house stands — a fraction of an acre.

So who does own the land? Over 95 percent of the privately held land in the United States is owned by just 3 percent of the population. (1) These are the people who own the land, the industry, the technology — all the means of life on which we depend. This land is THEIR land.

A land survey conducted in 1999 (2) found that the 53,000 largest landlords — those owning 2,000 acres (3 square miles) or more — own a total of 350 million acres, worth $366 billion. (3) On average each of these people owns about 7,000 acres (11 square miles), worth some $7 million.

Even this is quite modest by comparison with the largest landowners. King Ranch (Texas), owned by the Kleberg family, is worth about a billion. At 825,000 acres or 1,300 square miles, it is larger than the state of Rhode Island. Besides 60,000 head of cattle, the ranch includes farmland and game preserves. (4)

There are whole towns that belong to a single individual. The “developer” Ben Carpenter owns the town of Las Colinas near Dallas, with 12,000 acres, about 20,000 residents, and about a square mile of office space. Country and western singer Loretta Lynn owns Hurricane Mills, Tennessee. (5)

It is also possible to buy an island — if you have the money, of course. In 1919 William Wrigley, Jr. (of chewing gum fame) bought the 74 square miles of Santa Catalina Island, 22 miles offshore from Los Angeles. (6) There are quite a few privately owned islands scattered around the world. Even Josip Broz Tito, ruler of the so-called “Socialist” Republic of Yugoslavia, had one — Vanga in the Adriatic, home to his three palatial villas.

Apparently Woody Guthrie did know whose land this really is. One verse of the original song went:

Was a big high wall there that tried to stop me
A sign was painted, said ‘Private Property.’
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing.
That side was made for you and me. (7)

This was one of two verses that were later suppressed, turning a protest against private property into yet another piece of patriotic drivel.

John Lennon’s Imagine is more difficult to distort:

Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of Man.

World Socialist Party (US)

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