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Land: Of Wealth And Poverty

Land is the single most common characteristic of wealth worldwide.

Poverty and wealth are not, as often thought, opposites. Instead, the two words predicate a problem, poverty, and also indicated its solution--wealth. Land is the single most common characteristic of wealth worldwide. What the poor lack--land--the rich have in spades. In fact, land defines the wealthy to a far greater extent than cash.

According to the World Wealth Report 2007 released by Merrill Lynch/Capgemini there are 9,500,000 millionaires worldwide totaling 0.15% of the population. Likewise, there are 3,200,000 in North America (mostly found in the United States) totaling 0.62% of the regional population.

Of the earth's 6,600 million inhabitants, few, perhaps just 15%, own anything at all, and most are pitifully poor. The distinguishing feature of universal poverty is landlessness. Yet there is no great movement to get land to the impoverished masses. Aid, yes. But land, no.

Land, though, is not scarce on our planet. There are 33,558,400.010 acres of land on earth, and only 6,600 million people to occupy those acres. (This excludes Antarctica, which is another 3,375,496,490 acres.) Nationally, there are 5.2 acres of land available to every man, woman and child on the earth.

Trying to Visualize Space on the Planet--It's Difficult

If you are rich, 5.2 acres will not seem like much land. If you are among the 85% of the earth's population who own no land at all, 5.2 acres will seem like a dream beyond avarice.

Conventionally, geographers quote a statistic of persons per acre, square kilometer or square mile to demonstrate demographic distribution. Acres and acres per person on the other hand, will be the normal measurement(s) used throughout this book.

Acres per person clarifies three things. First: the actual availability of land in any given country in relation to the population.

Second, it provides a much clearer picture of how land is used, as well as occupied, when a fuller picture of actual distributions within countries is presented later in the book.

Third, it provides an indicator of the potential for wealth creation as land is taken from rural areas, say, and converted to urban use.

An acre is a little larger than the area occupied by a soccer field. so, for example, every person living in the wide open spaces of America has a potential 8.2 acres available to them--the equivalent of about 8 soccer fields.

The converse picture, of Americans per square mile, which is 77, falsifies the actual distribution and is purely notional. It is a figure that is true for statistics but not for the real world.

The acres per American, on the other hand, is factual and true for the space potentially available. As we shall later see, the majority of Americans live in America's 60-million-acre urban, leaving the rural population in America's real wide open spaces, with about 101 (38.1) acres apiece, based on potential availability.

The overall picture throughout the world is composed by separating those two figures--the acres available per person in urban areas, and the acres available in rural areas--and excluding wasteland.

The question then is simple. If there is this much land available, why is there poverty? The answer is simple. It is called exclusion. Over 85% of the earth's population is excluded from ownership of land. In 2006, 50% of all human beings lived in urban areas.

Urban land is probably a maximum of 1,000 million acres, about 3% of the 33,558 million non-Antartic acres that make up the land surface of the planet. Exclusion from ownership is the context in which poverty occurs.

The word "exclusion" is used deliberately. Access to and use of land across the planet is determined, after nature has made its disposition, by ownership. Those not part of the ownership nexus, and consequently excluded from formal rights over, or access to and use of, land, save with the consent of the owners, constitute more than 85% of all human beings and may even be 90%.

In a nutshell, the root cause of poverty is the historic capacity of land owners to assign themselves the bulk of the land and to exclude all others from access or ownership of land, using what they call the "law."

To learn more about how land is distributed amongst earth's inhabitants and why land ownership plays such an important role in the wealth-poverty equation, read Who Owns The World, The Surprising Truth About Every Piece Of Land On The Planet by Kevin Cahill with Rob McMahon.

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