The Blockchain Will Save Private Property Rights
From The Conversation. Property rights are considered essential elements of democratic, liberal societies and often form the basis for social and economic stability. Documenting real estate ownership is essential to substantiating property rights, but it can be difficult even in developed countries. It’s often nearly impossible to accurately document ownership in countries with rampant government corruption and/or weak government organization and oversight. In such countries, records can often be purposefully erased or lost or destroyed due to natural disaster. Professor Nir Kshetri of the University of North Carolina – Greensboro believes a blockchain-based land registry may be the answer.
The blockchain, which is the backbone of bitcoin, works by decentralizing a database spread across the internet with every transaction being done using cryptography. That’s an extremely simple explanation. A blockchain system for property records would do the same thing for deeds, surveys, plats, and other documents integral to accurately conveying property ownership. Transactions would be done using cryptography and records would include signatures showing when changes were made to documents and by whom. We’ll save a deeper analysis into the pros and cons of applying the blockchain to property records for a later article, but there are obvious advantages to the concept’s basic ideal of providing transparency, security, and decentralization, the last of which is primarily important in developing countries.
Societies, though, must still have favorable land ownership laws for any documentation system to be of any meaningful use. Governments, courts, and law enforcement must be free from corruption and willing to enforce and uphold laws in a fair and just manner. Working to promote more stable, democratic, and equitable societies is the ultimate solution to protecting property rights, though that’s a much harder task than implementing a better land ownership registry.
Do You Live Near a Sir Isaac Newton Tree?
From Atlas Obscura. In 1665, Sir Isaac Newton fled to Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire, England, his family home, to avoid an outbreak of the plague. It’s there that he made his famously observed an apple fall from a tree, which led him to publish his theory of gravity in 1687. That same tree is likely still growing today.
Clones and descendants of the tree are growing across the world today, most on the grounds of universities and research institutes. Atlas Obscura has a nice map with pictures of those trees, including the closest one to Atlanta at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. It’s difficult to get a tree, but the University of Georgia needs one so that Athens can be home to both a Newton Tree and the Tree That Owns Itself.
The Resurgent Chesapeake Bay
From The Washington Post. If you don’t live in the Mid Atlantic you may not care about the Chesapeake Bay, but you should. The Bay is the country’s largest estuary and is an economic engine, supporting commercial fisherman, recreational businesses, and providing seafood up and down the east coast. In 2011, nearly a third of the Chesapeake was considered a dead-zone, but a recent report shows that the first time in 33 years the Bay is showing improvements in every sector with 7 of the 15 sectors showing significant improvement.
Much, if not all, of the credit goes to a $19 billion, 15-year EPA cleanup plan started in 2010, which required surrounding states to limit runoff from farms and improve wastewater treatment facilities. Even the lowest estimates of economic activity created by the Bay far exceed the EPA’s $19 billion over 15 years in cleanup costs. The regulations could only work, though, if all states contributing water to the Chesapeake (those in the Chesapeake Bay watershed) had to follow the same rules. That meant that West Virginia, New York, and Pennsylvania were bound by the rules even though the Bay does not touch their borders.
President Trump attempted to eliminate the program in his 2018 budget and cut it by 90% in his 2019 budget, though Congress rejected both plans. Despite successful results, a strong campaign exists to prevent the EPA from creating rules binding states to participate in such programs. Georgia filed an amicus brief with the US Supreme Court in 2015 opposing the EPA’s ability to limit pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay and some Republicans continue to amend spending bills to limit the EPA’s ability to enforce pollution restrictions.
A New Map Every Day
From National Geographic and Kottke.org. National Geographic is going through its archive and sharing a new map every day. Subscribers get immediate access to all the maps, but non-subscribers can see a new one each day by following them on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. National Geographic is perhaps best known for its photographs, but the magazine’s extensive reporting on environmental and social issues around the world is very much underappreciated. Oh, and their maps are pretty good, too.
Nothing to See Here, Folks
From Governing. Over the past several years, states have enacted statutes or rules designed to limit public access to documents. We take for granted the federal Freedom of Information Act and similar state open records statutes that require the government to turn over requested information. The open records laws are just statutes, though, not constitutional rights, so states are free to amend them to limit public oversight. For example, the Kentucky attorney general recently ruled that correspondence between public employees on their personal phones is exempt from public disclosure. Florida, a long-time leader in open records laws (sometimes referred to as “sunshine” laws), has over 1,100 exemptions limiting public access.
Georgia has over 50 exemptions to its open records, though the Georgia Supreme Court recently gave consumers a victory when it ruled that Kennesaw State University was not prohibited from disclosing information related to a study done by a professor on behalf of a payday lender group. Those in Georgia and elsewhere should keep an eye out for under-the-radar legislation that attempts to curtail the public’s oversight of the government.
Cover Photo Credit: Paul Sableman via Flickr
Categories: Weekly Links