The New Feudalism

Feudalism–an economic system in which all land is owned by the monarch and everyone else must pay rent to use that land–supposedly ended hundreds of years ago. But a map of the world showing the current status of property suggests that it is alive and well over most of the planet. Moreover, a new form of feudalism that nominally allows people to own land but severely limits what they can do with that land dominates much of the rest of the world.

For years, various surveys of economic freedom have attempted to portray the amount of liberty people enjoy in different countries. However, none of these surveys have explicitly included property rights as one of the measures of freedom, probably because there is no easy index for such rights.

That was supposed to be remedied by the new International Property Rights Index. This judges a nation’s respect for property rights using ten criteria. However, only one of these has to do with ownership of real estate, and none of them consider how regulated such owners might be. As a result, it gives high ratings to countries in which property rights are actually severely limited.

For example, it rates the United Kingdom higher than the United States, when in fact landowners throughout the U.K. are severely restricted by government controls, whereas landowners in most American states are not. Thus, it isn’t really satisfactory.


Click image for a larger view.

As a substitute, the Antiplanner made a map of the world that puts nations (or, in the case of Canada and the United States, portions of nations) in one of four categories:

  • Yellow represents the Old Feudalism in which the government owns all or nearly all of the land, making it difficult for private parties to own property;
  • Red is the New Feudalism in which most land is private, but the government heavily restricts its use;
  • Green means most land is private and there are minimal government restrictions on use;
  • Finally, black is unknown and mainly refers to ex-communist countries in eastern Europe where land status may still be changing.

The map shows that the vast majority of the world is still feudalistic, including most of Africa and Asia as well as Alaska, Nevada, and northern territories of Canada. I also put most of South America in this category, but I might be wrong about a few countries.

At the other extreme, the only parts of the world that truly respect property rights are interior U.S. states, Canadian provinces other than British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec; Chile; and Iceland. Australia, most of Europe, Japan, and New Zealand fall in the New Feudalism category, as do U.S. states on the West Coast and in the Northeast plus British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec. The map also shows Indonesia and Southeast Asian nations in that category, but some of these might still be under the Old Feudalism.

Having completed an overly rapid tour of Southeastern Europe, I suspect a few countries in Eastern Europe could be colored green, but most should be colored red. It will take more detailed research to determine which should be which. I invite readers to correct any errors on the map or help determine the right colors for countries in eastern Europe.

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8 thoughts on “The New Feudalism

  1. Frank

    You have to look at enforcement of property laws to determine actual levels of freedom. There may be laws on the books in Eastern Europe, but if those laws are not enforced in many places, then actual property freedom may be much higher.

  2. JOHN1000

    I know the map is in its early stages. Great job.

    Suggesting that portions of the US green need to be yellow because of the large amount of land ownership by the federal government in Western states.

  3. metrosucks

    Not sure if anyone here is aware, but there is no actual private property in the UK. The “crown” claims de facto, ultimate ownership over all land in the country. This is their official position.

  4. MJ

    I have a bit of a problem with the yellow category, especially as it applies to the US. Nevada is the obvious outlier in this category. While it’s true that much of the land there is publicly owned, I’m not sure that it follows that this is necessarily a major restriction on freedom.

    Much of the land there is uninhabited and perhaps uninhabitable (at least in a relative sense). One has to ask what the alternative use for such land might be. Land in a hot, dry climate where there is little rainfall and hence vegetation has little in the way of private use, unless it is close to one of the state’s urban areas. It may be that there are few, if any, better uses than underground storage sites for spent nuclear fuel or a missile testing ground. Even in some locations where the land is publicly owned there are arrangements between the public sector and private users to allow for the use of the land for private purposes, such as grazing.

    Also, the entire continent of South America apart from Chile is listed as yellow. Is this really accurate?

  5. CapitalistRoader

    MJ: See: St. George, UT (9″/year precipitation), Las Vegas, NV (4″/year), Palm Springs, CA(6″/year) or Nagev, Israel (8″/year). Most of Nevada is quite inhabitable. There’s no need for the national government to own most of it.

    As such, perhaps we could do a land swap. For instance condemn, by eminent domain, the island of Manhattan and make it a national park. Revert it to its pre-evil, white people, utopian naturalist paradise. Now, it’s less than one percent of the State of New York but it would be a good start. In fact, why don’t we push Congress to create a national governement land ownershp equality law, such that every state in the union has exactly the same percentage of national government ownershp? Wouldn’t that be great? Then every state would be equal! And every state would have an equal chance of having jack-booted, national government thugs running around with high-tech weapons shooting citizens of those states.

  6. The Antiplanner Post author

    John1000: Only two of the western states depicted as green are more than 50 percent federally owned, and there is still more than enough private land in those states to meet everyone’s needs and demands.

    metrosucks: I made that point last week in my post about Britain’s self-inflicted housing crisis.

    MJ: The federal government owns enough land in Nevada that Las Vegas and, to a lesser extent, Reno suffered a housing bubble in 2006. Prior to then, federal land sales had avoided such a bubble.

  7. Frank

    Antiplanner: The post “Why the Dollar Works and the Euro Doesn’t” is broken. It doesn’t finish–bleeds into the sidebar content–and there is no comment section.

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