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Subsidizing the corporate green giant

By Henry Lamb
web posted February 24, 2003

With the national radar focused on Iraq, North Korea, and the U.N., much mischief-making is occurring in Congress. The CARE Act of 2003 (S256), is a lengthy, complex law that seeks, among its many objectives, to increase charitable giving.

Sections 106 and 107, if enacted, will have negative consequences that far outweigh the perceived benefits. These sections authorize a 25 percent reduction in capital gains taxes to people who sell their land or water rights to the government, or to an environmental organization such as The Nature Conservancy.

What’s wrong with this?

Private property, and the use of the resources it contains, is the foundation of a free market economy. The real estate market itself, is dynamic, providing jobs, and profits as property is traded among willing buyers and sellers. Every parcel of land acquired by government, or organizations such as The Nature Conservancy, diminishes the real estate market, reduces consumer choice, and increases the upward pressure on prices in the remaining market.

Taxes produced by private property evaporate when it is transferred to government, and are dramatically reduced, or eliminated, when transferred to so-called “conservancy” organizations.
Remaining property owners are forced to pay higher tax rates to make up for the taxes that are forever lost when property is taken away from the private sector.

Organizations such as The Nature Conservancy do not need more corporate welfare, which this bill provides, by giving them an advantage as a buyer, that is not available to other bidders. The Nature Conservancy pays no income taxes at all, as do other bidders in the private sector. The Nature Conservancy’s income is directly enhanced by grants from government, ($147 million between 1997 and 2001), and another $142 million in 2000 alone, from contracts, and the sale of land to the government.

According to a recent report in Range magazine, The Nature Conservancy owns more than 90-million acres of land around the world, about 12-million acres - a chunk the size of Switzerland - of which is in the United States. Along with the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and two other environmental organizations, The Nature Conservancy is listed as “executing agency,” or “collaborating organization,” on more than $800 million in annual grants from the U.N.’s Global Environment Facility. There is no justification for these subsidies.

Governments already own more than 40% of the total land area in America. The total additional acreage owned by the more than 1200 “conservancy” organizations is not known. These organizations, in “public/private” partnerships with government, are taking control of the foundation of our free market economy. This objective is not expressed publicly by either government, or by environmental organizations. Nevertheless, the expansion of public ownership of land is the objective, and the transformation of our economic system is the inevitable consequence. It is the objective set forth by the United Nations in 1976:

"Land...cannot be treated as an ordinary asset, controlled by individuals and subject to the pressures and inefficiencies of the market. Private land ownership is also a principal instrument of accumulation and concentration of wealth and therefore contributes to social injustice.... The provision of decent dwellings and healthy conditions for the people can only be achieved if land is used in the interests of society as a whole. Public control of land use is therefore indispensable...."

The CARE Act of 2003 subsidizes these giant green corporations in order to expedite the removal of land from private individuals, and the “inefficiencies of the market.” Since socialism is defined to be “public ownership of the sources of production,” every sale of land to the government, or to an environmental organization acting as a surrogate government partner, moves the nations closer to a socialist economy.

The government needs no more land. In fact, government should begin immediately to return its land inventory to the private sector. Environmental organizations need no more corporate welfare in the form of grants, or special subsidies. In fact, the land owned by these organizations should be taxed at the same rate comparable private land is taxed.

Not all of the CARE Act of 2003 is bad. Sections 106 and 107 certainly are. These sections should be removed. Every other law that gives welfare subsidies to these green corporate giants, should be repealed.

Terms such as open space, conservation, preservation, viewsheds, and the like, may sound
warm and fuzzy. The loss of free markets, private property, and individual freedom they require, however, is cold and brutal.

Henry Lamb is the executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization, and chairman of Sovereignty International.

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