After a short break (see end of this post), more normal service will now be resumed. While I was away in the US I did manage to post four times. Two of these were prompted by the publication of articles by me. Another was about UK policy stuff I am directly involved in, of which much more to come. The fourth post was about the basic commonality between support for Sanders and Corbyn which I felt many were missing.
I thought I would resume by talking about one big difference between the States and Europe that occurred to me over the last month, which has nothing to do with macro, and that is footpaths. By a footpath I mean a public rights of way over countryside that is not a highway (no cars allowed). In the UK in particular, if you think it would be nice to walk in the countryside for an hour or so without having to share the way with cars and lorries, you can usually do so by finding a footpath and walking on that. It is something that you take for granted until it is no longer there.
In the US as far as I know (and I think much the same is true in Australia and New Zealand) such footpaths just do not exist. There are many areas of public land which have excellent trail networks, but it may take some time to drive to these. The reason for this difference I suppose reflects history. Most of the footpaths in England and Wales were rights of way established in Anglo-Saxon, Roman or pre-Roman times, and these rights of passage are protected by english common law. (The position in Scotland is different.) Many of these became highways, but many did not, and those that did not become highways remain rights of way.
As a result, those who own land in the UK (perhaps just a few acres) may have a right of way over their land, and therefore have to accept that the public has a right to walk over this part of their land. It may be their property, but that ownership right comes with an obligation to protect the right of way. This system allows the public extensive access to the countryside, even if that countryside is privately owned. Of course these public rights of way are no longer used for their original purpose but are there instead for hiking (or walking the dog), and are extensively used for such. As this incurs very little loss in utility for the landowner, and a significant gain in utility for the public that use the land, then this seems like an excellent combination of private and public rights.
Of course the owners of private land sometimes do not see it this way, and the current system has seen its fair share of struggle between public and private. That struggle continues over the right to roam other unused private land that does not contain rights of way.
Is the absence of footpaths in the US an inevitable consequence of its history? One other thing I noticed travelling around California was how often public land (state parks etc) was the result of a private donation to the state. So perhaps enlightened landowners in the US could themselves create public rights of way over their land? Of course state or federal law could be changed to obligate large land owners to do so, but somehow in today’s America I do not see that happening any time soon.