Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Land Privatization (2)

Yan, a reader, commented on my article on land privatization:
I don't understand why private land ownership should be crucial for Mongolia's development. Sure, many western world are more advanced, and they do have private property rights on land. But I don't really see the direct conection between the two (except that farming societies tend to be more advanced than nomadic societies, and farming societies do require a concept of land ownership). If you are not implying that Mongolia needs to change towards a farming society in order to develope, I don't see what private property in pieces of the mongolian countryside should be good for.

The case is different in cities, aimag and sum centers, of course. But the way those laws on land registration are implemented at the moment (at least in Khuvsgul) is that people try to grab the most scenic spots in national parks etc. in order to build yet another campsite. Who happens to know the people in the registration office comes first, of course.
Me: He raises some good points. First, land ownership is generally tied to the notion of "improving" upon the land by making it somehow profitable (whether in the short or long term). This includes farming, but is not limited to it. Improving land may mean building things on it, growing things on it, raising animals on it, manufacturing things on it, leasing it, digging things out of it, or attracting paying customers to it. Incidentally, I think that's what De Soto was driving at when he said, "Everybody who feels they have something of value" is free to use it in trade, "either mortgage it, lease it, sell it, develop it, whatever." This principle applies whether you're in cities, aimag centers, sum centers, or the countryside.

I've one or two ideas of how land ownership could be avoided, but they're only possible if herding remains the mainstay of Mongolia. And as Baabar was quoted as saying in his UB Post opinion piece, herding is likely not the pathway to a better economic future in Mongolia. One idea would be for herders, once (or if) an international market for Mongolian animal products (meat, milk, cashmere, wool, etc.) becomes more developed, to cooperate in a way that would allow them to combine resources, transportation, and bargaining power. This could potentially cause herders to become more profitable and as a consequence raise them out of a subsistance hearding existance and help them to improve their quality of life in general. But again, this will work only if there's a market for their goods. (There was a time in the United States where this idea worked--when much of the West and the Great Plains were given to cattle. But it didn't last for long--maybe a few decades before the end of the 19th century. That's when the flood of folks from the East Coast and Europe seeking a better life and turned the grazing land into farmsteads.)

Second, the problem that is taking place in Khuvsgul (and in Kharkhorum, where land was, but is no longer, given away freely to Mongolian nationals) of people snapping up prime pieces of land and then just making them their private campsites could be eliminated by adopting the laws that would stipulate that the land would be yours ONLY if you improve upon it (see above) within a certain period of time. If a claimant doesn't improve upon it, the land would no longer belong to them. This would basically be what is commonly called homesteading. The principles upon which homesteading is based stretch back hundreds of years in the West, and it could, with adjustment, be applied anywhere. A great overview of homesteading as it was applied in America can be found at Wikipedia (also apropos at this link, a brief discussion of what happened when homesteaders came to the open range used by ranchers). Homesteading isn't a perfect system for making public land private--fraud is still possible--but it has largely been successful in America.

Two reasons why a homesteading approach to land-privatization might NOT work in Mongolia is that, first, it's predicated upon the assumption that the people who would claim the land would have the intention of improving upon it whether for residential, industrial, agricultural, etc., purposes. After all, there is not much history of land improvement in Mongolia, a nation historically given to herding and subsistance living. Couple this with the second reason--a huge expanse of land (larger than Texas) and a tiny population (under 3 million), and I'm not sure that homesteading is an idea that would prove efficacious in Mongolia. However the principle may still hold.

We'll see what happens.

4 Comments:

Anonymous yan said...

When you think of it, the proposed land privatization scheme (max. 0.7 hectares per family) seems to be more like a continuation of the apartment privatization of the early 90s, so that also those not living in towerblocks can own the place they live in. Actually, taking it further (e.g. in the way described in the article) doesn't seem so bad. However, IMO one needs to make sure that the demands of herders (grazing land and esp. water) are respected, and that "protected areas" are really protected.
That is what my comment re. lake Huvsgul was aimed at - that currently every interested party (private, but apparently also state institutions) seems to be able to claim a piece of national park land and build a holiday camp (for tourists or staff) on it.
Sure, a certain degree of touristic infrastructure is necessary and definitely desirable, and I'd probably be much less critical if I were a local. But as a tourist i can't help wanting to see things regulated more.

7/07/2005 6:53 AM  
Blogger nabetz said...

You said, "Sure, a certain degree of touristic infrastructure is necessary and definitely desirable, and I'd probably be much less critical if I were a local. But as a tourist i can't help wanting to see things regulated more."

Well said! I couldn't agree more. If I had my druthers, I'd want Mongolia to stay JUST the way it is, but somehow with more economic prosperity. I hope it's somehow possible.

7/07/2005 8:00 AM  
Blogger IhMongol said...

Great site!
Great blogging on land privatization in Mongolia.

I like how you think Nabetz. I too share the same sentiments of wanting to have the untouched land and the pure and innocent way of nomadic life preserved in Mongolia and yet wanting to see the lives of the same nomads improved and the country to develop and get out of poverty, the third world existence, corruption, and all the other problems that Mongolia has been entangled in the last decade that it would just be too long to enumerate them.

Optimistically, though, one possbile way to develop for Mongolia could be I thought to develop in parallel two main industries. One industry could the one and all that supports and lets the animal husbandry and hence the mongolian nomadic lyfestyle to flourish: as Nabetz mentioned by means of market regulation that is to create more demand by bolstering industries that process products out of animal husbandry be it establishing, supporting, subsidising the cashmere, leather, hide, meat, sausage, cheese, yougurt, eco tourism, ... what have you... so that the herders would lead their lives and supply this great demand for their products profitably and hopefully in improved and at the same time in some ways that preserve this beautiful centuries' old free way of life. And in parallel to this traditional lifestyle we could develop the intellectual capital of Mongols for the high-tech industry similar to India's computer software developers and engineers. Maybe put some real investment or create a legal and infrastructural environment that is really nurturing to the high-tech companies. I have been thinking and discussing this idea that maybe the best way to develop for Mongolia is just to educate the youngsters who want education in the high-tech fields. And maybe we can set up the customer service centers of software companies in UB, maybe mongolian engineers can write up the the next best programs and softwares in UB. One thing that I think is not disputable is that mongols have quite high intellectual capacity and are very talented when it comes to learning foreign languages. Especially when it comes to foreign language acquiring and acquiring on a fluent level, on average, the mongols are much better equipped than chinese, japanese, and koreans, for sure. So, who knows if the customer or various call centers or other services that require no boundaries could start getting set up in UB?

8/15/2005 6:26 PM  
Blogger samraat said...

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4/04/2010 10:44 PM  

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