"You can't create more land!"



The above nonsense claim is made as a part of a number of reformist economic proposals... such as this one: "And unlike capital goods such as cars or computers, you can’t produce more land..."

It is distressing to see someone writing on political economy who thinks that this blatant falsehood is an obvious truth. First of all, in the most simpleminded sense, it certainly is possible to create more land, and people have done so: just ask the Dutch, or the people who live in Battery Park City.

But that is only the start of how one can "produce more land." Let's say we are living in a town along a river running through a desert. The town has been growing, and we are running out of room for housing. But stretching along the river there are many farms, relying on the water from the river for irrigation. If we extend our irrigation system further out into the desert, farms can move out there, and more housing can be built along the river. We have "produced more land" by making land that was formerly useless productive.

Or perhaps there is an isolated valley in the mountains above our expanding town. The valley itself is lovely, but no one will live there, since crossing the mountains to commute down to the town is too difficult. We can build a tunnel through the mountain and suddenly the valley becomes a desirable residential site.

But perhaps the number one way we can "produce more land" is to build it upwards: in A high-rise apartment building or an office skyscraper are nothing more or less than multiple pieces of land (the floors) erected upon the original piece.

In short, we certainly can produce more land, and we do it all the time. Any political economy built on the notion that the amount of land is fixed, is rubbish.

10 comments:

  1. Right. I've had several arguments with a Georgist/geoist type who just can't grasp this point. In the distant future, planet colonization is also a possibility.

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    1. The surface area is still limited.

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    2. So what? The whole point of this post is that surface area isn't what matters.

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  2. "First of all, in the most simpleminded sense, it certainly is possible to create more land, and people have done so: just ask the Dutch, or the people who live in Battery Park City."

    Dubai is a much better example.

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    1. Another example. Why better?

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    2. It's a better example because the land creation is much clearer and noticeable.

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    3. Are you saying that battery Park city is not clearly new dry land? Are you claiming that it is not noticeable?

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    4. 1/6 of the Netherlands is human built land. That ought to be pretty noticeable!

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  3. Are you saying that the concept of "land" as understood by classical economists (fixed supply, not produced by humans) is an abstraction of no or minimal use? Or is this post targeted at just the common meaning of the word?

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    1. The former, and that's not new to me: Mises says the same thing in Human Action.

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