In a characteristically lively and thought-provoking episode of EconTalk (June 23, 2014), Gregory Zuckerman illustrates the tremendous importance of private ownership to human flourishing.
At the 37:00 mark of the podcast, Zuckerman, author of The Frackers: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters, contrasts the extensive oil and gas production now going on in the United States with the almost complete lack of the same in Britain, even though Britain has loads of shale rock that can be tapped to produce oil and gas.
Why the difference? Well, the law in the United States says that landowners own the oil and gas in the shale rock, miles down beneath their land. As owners, they get to decide what, if anything, is done with it. They may lease to an oil company the right to extract that oil and gas, in exchange for royalties. The royalties gives them an incentive to put up with the noise, truck traffic, drill rigs and other disturbances inherent in digging a well and pumping out the oil and gas. For many owners, that incentive is enough; the wells get dug, and everyone in the country enjoys slightly lower-priced, more abundant oil and gas as a result.
But in Britain, “the crown”—the government, everybody, nobody—owns the oil and gas in the shale beneath landowners’ land. What, if anything, is done with it is thus a political question. There are no royalties for landowners where wells might be dug, only the nuisance and the noise. Accordingly most landowners oppose the drilling in the political debate. So few wells are dug, and everyone in Britain suffers an unnecessary dearth of oil and gas.