Chinese Nationals Own a Mere 0.03% of American Agricultural Land
American protectionists have yet again come up with some new reasons to push more government regulations and more government control of private property. This time, the new regulations come in the form of restriction as to whom Americans can sell their own property. Specifically, a number of US states have passed—or are seriously considering passing—new laws prohibiting foreign nationals and foreign entities from owning land within the states in question.
At least 16 states have done so this year: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia, and Virginia. Not all of these new regulations are equally robust. Some restrict the sale only of farmland, some restrict sales on all real property. Some of these restrict sales to nationals of certain disfavored countries, while at least one state—i.e., Oklahoma—bans sales of all non-citizens except under certain circumstances.
The rationale behind nearly all of this is a moral panic over Chinese ownership of land. The meme has gone about among many conservative nationalists that the Chinese regime is buying up American land and so both states and the federal government must create new regulations and prohibition to protect "freedom." An example of this can be found in a recent post on Twitter by South Dakota governor Kristi Noem which states that "China's holdings"—by which she presumably means holdings of Chinese nationals—increased 5,300%. That's a lot of growth, but one wonders why she didn't mention any actual numbers of acreage. (It is reminiscent of how the Soviets used to report crime statistics only as percentage changes. The USSR data workers kept "forgetting" to publish any totals of actual crime incidents.)
So, just how much land do Chinese nationals (and other foreigners) own? It turns out the Federal government already keeps track of this thanks to the Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act of 1978 (AFIDA). The act requires "foreign investors who acquire, transfer, or hold an interest in U.S. agricultural land to report such holdings and transactions to the Secretary of Agriculture on an AFIDA Report Form FSA-153." Prior to that, the Federal government did not systematically track foreign ownership of land. The act itself, of course, is not constitutional. One will look in vain for anything among the enumerated federal powers in the US constitution authorizing such activities. Nevertheless, since the report exists, we'll have a look.
According to the most recent AFIDA report, China holds a little under 1 percent of all foreign-owned ag land. But that just foreign-owned ag land. If we look at all privately held ag land overall, China owns 0.03 percent.
In contrast, the country with the most citizens who hold US ag land is Canada. Canadian investors hold 12.8 million acres, which is 31 percent of all foreign-held land. Canadian nationals hold 0.97 percent of ag land overall.
It is Europeans, however, who dominate among foreign holders of US ag land. After Canada, the next-largest group of foreign nationals holding ag land is the Dutch, followed by Italians, and then the British. China isn't even in the top ten, however, and comes in behind Ireland, Japan, Mexico, Switzerland, and others.
All taken together, foreigners own approximately 40.8 million acres. 383,935 of that is held by Chinese nationals.
Some advocates for more laws against foreign ownership contend that the AFIDA report is missing data, yet critics of the report only offer conjecture about what the "real" numbers are. If AFIDA is wrong, well, people like Kristi Noem don't actually have any better numbers. In any case it's a safe bet that Chinese nationals don't control even 5 percent of ag land in America. Moreover, it's rather odd that some Americans wring their hands over the role of Chinese nationals in land ownership when there is no demonstrated threat, whatsoever.
Rather, if Americans are looking for a large, distant corporate entity that it immensely wealthy and unresponsive to the wishes and needs of Americans, we might be better off looking at the United States government and its immense land holdings. Compared to Chinese nationals' paltry 384,000 acres, the US government owns 640 million acres of non-seabed land—or 16 times more land than the land of all foreign nationals combined. For perspective, the total number of acres in all farmland in America totals 895 million acres. Federal lands comprise 28 percent of all land in America—agricultural or otherwise.
These federal lands are off-limits to any private ownership—essentially forever. Federal lands have been used for nuclear experiments that have poisoned nearby populations. Federal workers on federal lands have caused a variety of environmental disasters such as the Gold King Mine spill in 2015. The Feds are looking to lock down these lands even more from the general public with initiatives like "wilderness" areas and roadless areas. These lands are controlled primarily by interest groups with influential lobbies in Washington. Yet, it is Chinese ownership we are supposed to be deeply concerned about.
To get perspective on how much of a threat is Beijing's power versus American federal power we might ask: how much do Americans pay to Beijing in taxes? How much does Beijing regulate American businesses or pollute American waterways and lands? How many Americans has Beijing imprisoned or fined for violating Beijing's rules? The answers to these questions highlight how fears are generally misplaced about which government does the most damage on a daily basis to Americans private property, American freedom, and American well-being in general.
Of course, many Americans—thanks to relentless propaganda and gaslighting from the media and public schools—will insist that the US government only has the peoples' best interests at heart. Many have convinced themselves that a few hundred millionaires in Congress somehow represent the interests of 330 million Americans. So, it's not the feds we must fear, with their IRS agents, ATF goons, and FBI secret police—all armed to the teeth. Rather, it's a distant foreign government with virtually no power over us that we should really be worrying about. So, that 640 million acres of federal land is all for the "public good," you see, while a few million acres of foreign-held land is a grave threat.