A Plan for a National Land Policy
J. Rupert Mason
[Reprinted from Land and Freedom, March-April
THE bottleneck of land speculation which is preventing the
production of the "guns and butter" necessary for National
Defense and civilians, is proving such a tough problem, that there is
just a possibility that one or more of our leaders in government or
industry may take the bit in their teeth. There are already
indications that our leaders are awakening to the magnitude of the
President Roosevelt's recent remarks about our "Cliveden set"
is a straw, not without much deeper significance than the press let
on. Mrs. Roosevelt has recently broadcast that special privilege must
go. Henry Ford has frequently urged, through the press, that idle land
be taxed more heavily than land in use. John Carmody has resigned as
head of Federal Works Agency and Nathan Straus has resigned as head of
U. S. Housing Authority; in both cases it is said that land
speculators were after their scalps because they would not submit to
certain schemes. Vice-President Wallace has said, "Sometimes I
think land speculation is a plague more terrible than drought and
insect pests, and almost as bad as war itself."
Secretary of Agriculture Wickard devotes many pages in his 1941
Report to "land speculation" and "taxation of land
values," and points out clearly how to deal with the problem.
Secretary of the Interior Ickes, in his 1941 Report, tells of the new
office for "Land Utilization" (created by Order No. 1466,
issued April 15, 1940), with the "over-all view of administering
and developing the natural resources of the nation at the highest
possible level of efficiency and economy."
While our leaders are casting about for an orderly land policy, they
might ponder the example already set by Boulder City, Nevada. In 1928
the Congress (in 45 Stat. 1057) entrusted the Department of the
Interior with the duty of holding the title to all land in Boulder
City, alongside the great Boulder Dam, and charging ground rent to
those wishing business or home locations in that little city. It was
believed at the time by Congress that Boulder City would virtually
cease to exist when the workmen engaged to build this great project
finished that job. Because of this fact, and also the fact that it was
not suspected that any real estate boomers could find people willing
to "buy" any lots in such ah obviously temporary community,
no lobby thought the measure of enough importance to oppose it.
But Dr. Elwood Mead, the then Commissioner of the Bureau of
Reclamation and the man who had the land tenure provision inserted in
this statute, must have had a very definite Idea in mind when he
advocated it. A short time before he had been called for consultation
by the Government of Australia in connection with their reclamation
schemes and while in Australia it was on Dr. Mead's suggestion
largely, if not wholly, that their new capital city of Canberra
adopted the policy of land tenure which our Congress enacted in the
case of Boulder City, Nevada. The law permitted leases for not over
ten years, when first enacted. But despite this fact, virtually all of
the houses, store buildings, hotels, movies, etc., in this model city
are privately owned. The fact that homeseekers could not get longer
than a ten-year lease did not deter them at all. At the end of the
first ten years, instead of amending the law to permit persons to "buy"
land, in the usual way, the Congress re-affirmed the policy as in the
act from the beginning, and permitted renewal of old leases, and new
leases for not to exceed fifty-four years, subject to periodical
This land tenure policy has enabled the community to keep out
gambling, which is wide open in nearby Las Vegas. There are no
billboards, hot dog stands or anything of the sort to offend in this
truly "spotless town."
Persons desiring to build, for any purpose permitted, deal directly
with the City Manager, and pick out the location desired, as one
selects seats at a theater ticket window. No "ransom" has to
be paid any speculator.
Boulder City has attracted many persons of culture and means, because
of the added fact that Nevada has no income, sales or inheritance
taxes, and Boulder City is proving a mecca for the seekers of
On February 3, 1942, President Roosevelt sent a new bill to the
Congress (H.R. 6522) : "An act to prevent speculation in lands in
the Columbia Basin prospectively irrigable by reason of the
construction of the Grand Coulee Dam project and to aid actual
settlers in securing such lands at the fair appraised value thereof as
arid land, and for other purposes."
This Act is the product of five years' study by some sixty groups of
federal, state, railroad, Chamber of Commerce and real estate groups,
which President Roosevelt had urged in 1937 to draft legislation that
would absolutely prevent speculation in the more than one million
acres in this project. The Act, as now drafted, would permit the
Secretary of the Interior to acquire the title to land now in the
hands of private persons or companies, and after the government
acquires the title, to "sell or lease" it to homeseekers,
etc. There are some safeguards, during the first ten years, but the
bill does not now really "prevent" speculation in these
lands. Every person interested in effectively checking land
speculation is earnestly urged to write at once to his Representative
or Senator in Washington for a copy of H.R. 6522, which has. been
referred to the Committee on Irrigation and Reclamation, and also to
write the Chairman of that Committee his views, if he is unable to
attend any of the Hearings, and ask to be sent a copy of the Hearings.
The policy adopted in H.R. 6522 is of far greater importance than may
at first appear. This because the federal government is engaged in a
similar great project in California, the "Central Valley project,"
and there are, and doubtless will be, many more in other parts of the
nation, which will likely follow the pattern established in H.R. 6522.
With the precedent of Boulder City and its land tenure policy having
been twice approved by the Congress, it is proper to ask your
Congressman why H.R. 6522 should not contain the same policy and
principles. By taking an active interest in this pending law, the
opportunity so many have been hoping for may be gratified. Here is "action"
on a silver platter.