Who Owns the World

In his 2006 book, Who Owns the World: The Hidden Facts Behind Landownership, Kevin Cahill notes that Queen Elizabeth II is the legal owner of one sixth of the land on the Earth’s surface, more than any other individual or nation. This amounts to a total of 6.6 billion acres (27 million km²) in 32 countries. [2] For those unfamiliar with royalty the Crown is never separate from the individual who holds it but is as one with them. Mrs Elizabeth Mountbatten Windsor is the Crown while she is Queen, and she loses neither her personality nor her individuality while she is monarch. In all territories owned by the Crown, including Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, the governments of those countries do not own the land of the country, but may and frequently do administer it on behalf of its owner, HM Elizabeth II. More significantly all forms of land possession in those territories are based, formally and in law, on the Crown’s superior ownership. This is why the Land Registry in places like the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia cannot register land ownership, only tenure. This is also why freehold and leasehold are defined in law as forms of tenure, not ownership.

Cahill also noted that of all the countries in the world that he looked at over a several year period, the only major country in which ownership of land was clearly defined as belonging to the citizens who had paid for it was the United States This is sometimes called ‘allodial’ ownership but is a changed meaning of that word. Originally ‘allodial’ meant land that could not be bought or sold or have a debt attached to it. Countries which have a form of direct ownership, even if it is not clear in their respective constitutions, include Germany, Switzerland, France, possibly Spain and in the future, Russia. In the United States the Federal Government owns about one third of the land of the country. But it does so as a landowner on a legal par with any other landowner and without a superior right to any land other than that endorsed on deeds as the property of the Federal Government. As a government the Federal Authorities and other public bodies do possess the right, sometimes called ‘eminent domain’, to acquire privately owned land for public purposes.

I will be appearing at this year’s Edinburgh Festival at 1430 on the 24th August.

The talk will cover issues raised in Who Owns the World and will also deal with why and how the book came to be written. Amongst matters I will raise will be the relationship between poverty and prosperity and how the latter has occurred in the mainly developed countries of the world through a marginal and small scale redistribution of land . Taking the long view, mainly because there is no other view to take when dealing with the history of the race, it’s current status and the poverty of so many of the planetary population, I will suggest that there is room for optimism. That things do change for the better and that such a change can be brought about by ignoring short term punditry, understanding the media and its ultra short attention focus, and understanding the actual volume of land in the world.

I will remind the audience that the cliche recently cited on the cover of the New Scientist, that this is a crowded planet, is not borne out by the facts. That there are 36 billion acres of land on the earth and only 6,500 million people to fill those acres, more than half of which are arable or habitable or both.

Other issues I will cover will include;

Land and housing in the UK.

Land and law in the UK and elsewhere.

The status of the Queen as the world’s largest legal landowner

The UK’s 2nd domesday and the implications for modern economics.

Future dwellings and future workplaces; the role of land.

Land registries generally, including those in the UK and their shortcomings

See you there