Private partnerships, real-estate investment trusts and other financial investors are snapping up millions of acres of forest land -- not just in America but in New Zealand, Uruguay, Brazil and beyond. They are buying from giant paper companies such as International Paper Co., which are under pressure from restless shareholders to boost their profits by cashing in on forest land that for decades has just sat there.
The result is an enormous land transfer now under way. The paper companies long were the nation's largest private owners of large tracts of standing timber. "For 100 years, the industrial users owned this land. A 1980 map of landowners in Maine would be almost the same as the 1900 map," says William Ginn, an official of the Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit environmental group.
Now the national map changes almost monthly. It's a phenomenon that has financial ramifications as well as environmental ones, such as the possibility that financial investors who get in a bind might over-log or overdevelop the land.
Today, nearly $30 billion of American forest land is in the hands of financial investors, according to Hancock Timber Resource Group, a large timberland investment manager. That's six times what such investors' timberland holdings were in 1994, Hancock Timber estimates. And these investors have poured billions of dollars more into forests abroad.
Western society, which irrationally prides itself on rationality, consistently puts its fate in the hands of financial speculators whose interests are counter-societal and extremely narrow.
Communism failed and capitalism will too, but for totally different reasons. Capitalistic economies of scale are rapidly becoming tyrranies. We need a new economic system that rewards the work and innovation of individuals and groups over the legal entitlements of fictitious entities like corporations.