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10 March 2011

Preview: who owns the world?

Today we have two kinds of feudal state.

By Jon Bernstein

This week’s New Statesman cover is devoted to the second instalment of Kevin Cahill’s special investigation into land ownership.

Cahill casts his net wider this time. From the Queen of England to the Kidmans of Australia, from King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to the media tycoon Ted Turner, the piece reveals the globe’s biggest landowners.

The largest landowners on earth (New Statesman)

As this extract from the piece explains:

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Today we have two kinds of feudal state: the inherited state, usually with a monarch at its head, such as the UK; and the state that claims ownership of all land and is feudal in its conception and often totalitarian, such as China. But the core surviving feudal structure in the modern world is inherited, transnational and covers many countries. It has no formal name. It is, in fact, the British crown and its wearer, Elizabeth II. Her legal title runs thus: “by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith”.

This constitutional statement includes some vast territories where the Queen is quite separately the sovereign head of state and legal owner. First among these is Australia, which, if its Antarctic territories are included, is the second-largest country on earth. And the Queen, in effect, owns it. She also owns the third-largest country, Canada.

When the Queen’s territories are added together, the Russian Federation ceases to be the largest single political entity on earth. Like the Queen’s realms, the Russian Federation is dramatically underpopulated and immensely rich in mineral wealth of all kinds.

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