How Much is the U.S. Worth?

Saturday, April 25th, 2015

All the land in the US is worth $23 Trillion:

That’s William Larson’s estimate for the value of the 1.89 billion acres of land that accounts for the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia. The dollar figure — equal to about 1.4 times last year’s gross domestic product – represents only the value of the land, and not buildings, roads or other improvements, and excludes bodies of water.

He also determined values for every state. California is worth the most at $3.9 trillion and Vermont is worth the least at a paltry $44 billion. On a per acre basis, New Jersey has the most valuable land at $196[,41o] an acre and Wyoming the least, $1[,557] an acre.


His estimates reflect the land’s value in 2009. Therefore it shows a post-recession figure (he says country’s value fell 24% from 2006 to 2009) and doesn’t account for the changes in value due to the shale-gas activity in the Midwest and elsewhere.

Some key findings:

  • The federal government owns 24% of all land, worth a collective $1.8 trillion. (That’s 8% of the country’s total value, or around 10% of the total outstanding federal debt.)
  • Just 5.8% of U.S. land is developed, but that land accounts for 50.7% of the total value.
  • Almost half, 47%, of U.S. land is used for agriculture.

A typical state is just 7 percent developed, with a land value of just $10[,000] per acre. D.C., on the other hand, is 87 percent developed, with a land value just over $1,000[,000] per acre.


  1. Borepatch says:

    This can’t be right. $1000/acre in Washington D.C.? I remember in the 1980s, Columbia MD (just up the road from D.C.) was ~ $100,000/acre. Columbia is pretty nice, but it can’t be as expensive as Foggy Bottom.

    As to $10/acre general cost, undeveloped woodland in *very* rural Georgia is going for 50 times that.

    The numbers seem off by maybe two orders of magnitude.

  2. James James says:

    I’d say off by three orders of magnitude. In central London it can get up to £100m/acre.

  3. James James says:

    Remember that things like income tax depress land values. In a Georgist state with no other taxes, rents would go up and land would be worth much more. The state would still collect as much tax as it does now, but all from land.

  4. Isegoria says:

    Land taxes do depress land values and do not increase rents.

  5. Isegoria says:

    If those numbers looked off by three orders of magnitude, there’s a reason:

    This post has been updated. Due to an error in the BEA paper, figures for the per-acre value of states were incorrect by a factor of 1,000. As a result, a previous version of the chart, “Sea to Shining Sea,” showed incorrect figures for the total value of land per state and the per-acre value.

    (Mindlessly cutting and pasting them was still my fault though.)

  6. As a slight aside, I’m distrustful of aggregating market values of goods that are not for sale. (See this post for an explanation).

    I remember from 20 years ago the claim that one park in Tokyo was worth more than all the land in California. That absurdity resulted from the absurdity of trying to estimate “what this thing would cost to buy if it was for sale, which it isn’t”

    It’s fair enough to estimate the value of an aggregate of all the land in a state on other bases, such as productive capacity, but you can’t use market values if there is no market.

    Going further off-topic, a similar point goes for the market capitalisation of a company. The share price x share issuance may be a reasonable estimate of the value of a company, but it does not imply that you can sell most or all of it for that price (if you own it), or that you can buy all of it for that price (if you don’t).

  7. James James says:

    Today in London there’s a car park for sale in Mayfair (the most expensive location on the Monopoly board) for £100m: “Property experts believe that the half acre site… could be worth at least £500 million when fully developed.”

    So that’s a billion pounds an acre in the most expensive part of London.

  8. James James says:

    “Land taxes do depress land values”

    Slight clarification: they depress land prices. A 100% land tax would depress land prices all the way to zero, but the land would still be just as valuable.

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