Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Who Owns the World by Kevin Cahill, Rob McMahon

book cover

Who Owns the World:
The Surprising Truth About Every Piece of Land on the Planet
by Kevin Cahill with Rob McMahon

Trade Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
First Released: 2010

Source: Free review copy from the publisher.

Back Cover Description (slightly modified):
In our modern world, you can IM someone in New Zealand, purchase coffee beans from Timor-Leste, or shop for homes in Dubai on the Internet. But what do we really know about the land in these countries? And what do we know about our own? Now this unique compilation reveals the hidden secrets about landownership in all fifty states and every country and territory on Earth. Fascinating, eye-opening, and sometimes shocking, this informative guide will change the way you look at the world. You'll discover that:

*Two of the largest landowners in the U.S. are the federal government and Ted Turner. The Federal Government owns about 31.4% of the land in the country. Ted Turner owns 1,800,000 acres in America.

*80% of the American population lives in urban areas

*The least crowded state is Alaska, with 670 acres per person. The most crowded is New Jersey, with 0.7 acres per person

*60% of America's population are property owners. That's behind the U.K. (69% homeownership).

*Queen Elizabeth II owns 1/6 of the entire land surface on Earth (if you count both her personal property and the government-owned property held in her name). She personally owns about 637,000 acres.

*Only 15% of the world's population lays claim to landownership

...plus many more incredible facts!

Who Owns the World was mainly a statistical reference book, though definitely one with an agenda behind it. I found the actual statistics very interesting. I've heard things like "China is terribly crowded" but now I know how it compares to other countries in terms of population in urban areas versus rural areas and so on.

I wasn't very impressed with Part One, which was only 52 pages long. The author's premise was that poverty can be wiped out if everyone in the world was given ownership of even a small piece of land. He then shows how rich people (who, ironically, made their riches from ideas and businesses) own a lot of land. The problem is that not every piece of land is created equal. Giving someone a remote bit of wasteland wouldn't be helpful. Not to mention that I've known a millionaire who owned an old house on a small bit of urban property (as in, he didn't own a lot of land), poor people (including farmers) who owned land, and poor people who inherited land and sold it for quick money (which they promptly wasted) or had to sell it due to debts. Land ownership doesn't automatically lead to riches.

Another problem I had with Part One was that he tended to compare apples to oranges to pears. I realize the difficulty he had in getting precise numbers, and I appreciate that he did usually state what, precisely, he was including in his numbers. However, he had a whole section comparing monarchs to each other with some numbers being what the monarch owned privately plus what the government owned "in their name," others with only government-owned lands credited to them, and others credited with all of the land they ruled over whether they technically own it or not. The various religions were also compared as to total wealth (based on the value of the land containing churches, religious hospitals, etc.) irregardless of the religion's different administrative structures. A religion can't own land, only people, so I didn't get what the comparison was supposed to prove.

I found Part Two very interesting though I was still occasionally exasperated by comments the author made. Part Two covered the statistics on United States in detail, state by state, and then gave the statistics for each country in the world. The statistics for the states included: population, population of the capital, size in acres, acres per person, number of houses, houses owned, houses rented, and acres of developed land. The statistics for countries included: population, size in acres, population, acres per person, GNI, World Bank ranking, and percentage urban population. It also gave the background history and how the state/country is owned (including urban vs farmland vs forestland statistics for the USA states) in a text description. It would have been helpful to have some graphs for each state or country to put everything in perspective, but the information was still interesting.

The book was easy to read. If you like statistical comparison books and are interested in this topic, then you'll probably enjoy this book.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Pages 110-111
Population: 2,673,400. Capital, and population of capital: Little Rock, 552,194. Became: 25th state in 1836. Size: 34,034,670 acres. Acres per person: 12.7. Country closest in size: Greece, 32,607,360 acres. Houses/dwellings: 1,173,043. Owned: 814,091. Rented/leased: 358,952. Developed land: 1,409,100 acres.

Arkansas was one of a number of states formed from the territory gained in the Louisiana Purchase. The state served as a stopping ground for Native American tribes as they mover out to the west. Bill Clinton, the 42nd President, was born in Arkansas and his presidential library is located in the state capital of Little Rock.

How the state is owned
The Federal Government owns 3,102,800 acres of land--the equivalent of 9.1% of the state.

The state's rural land is divided into 5.3 million acres of pastureland, 7.6 million acres of cropland, 18.7 acres of forest land, 1.4 million acres of developed land and 1.2 million acres of land classified as "other."

There are 45,170 farms in Arkansas, standing on 14,364,955 acres of land. 27,699 farms are wholly owned, 12,596 are partly owned and 4,875 are tenanted. There are 1,613 farms of between 1,000 and 2,000 acres in the state, and 707 farms of over 2,000 acres.

The total forest area of the state is 18,778,600 acres. Of this forest land, the public owns 3,198,400 acres (17%), the forest industry owns 4,531,600 acres (24%) and non-industrial private owners own 10,652,100 acres (56.7%).

The largest landowners are the state with an estimated 1.6 million acres, International Paper (a forestry company) with 1.2 million acres, the Deltic Timber Company (31,000 acres), the John Ed Anthony family (150,000 acres, mainly forests), Anthony Forest Products (32,000 acres), the Carter Jones family (65,000 acres), Rex Timber (20,000-plus acres), the Lee Wilson family (20,000-plus acres), the Calion Lumber Company (20,000-plus acres), and Plum Creek with 773,000 acres.

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