Sell Alaska to Pay Off the Debt?

by Mark Krikorian

A silly piece in yesterday’s Washington Post calls for selling Alaska back to the Russians, or maybe to the Chinese or Arabs, as a way raising revenue. But the author conflates the ridiculous with the sensible by equating the transfer of a state to foreign sovereignty with the auctioning off of public lands.

In fact, auctioning public lands used to be one of the main sources of revenue for the federal government before the Progressive Era. Further, there’s no excuse for the national government to own 69 percent of the land in Alaska (and 84 percent of Nevada, 57 percent of Utah, 53 percent of Oregon, 50 percent of Idaho, 48 percent of Arizona, and so on). Obviously, we want to keep some portion of that land, as national parks, Air Force bombing ranges, and so on. But if New York and Iowa, for example, can get by with only 0.8 percent of their land area under the ownership of Washington, the states out west can too.

The author of the WaPo piece quotes a book-chapter title that refers to auctions of public lands as “burning the furniture to heat the house,” but it’s nothing of the kind. Transferring ordinary public lands into private hands is eminently sensible and overdue, like selling Washington’s shares in GM. The idea that any reduction in the number of federally owned acres of scrub land grazed by cattle is tantamount to selling off the Lincoln Memorial would suggest that the federal government should really have title to all the nation’s land, like in the workers’ paradises so admired in the past by progressives.

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