John, a libertarian would say that private property owners would be the best at maximizing the value of the North Slope oil field. From a libertarian perspective, the thing to do would be to privatize the North Slope and let private competition sort out how to best maximize the North Slope value.
The Alaskans have chosen to hold their mineral rights collectively and distribute out profits from that collective ownership. I don’t have an objection to this, but I fail to see how it could be considered a capitalist endeavor, since collective ownership of property is a typical feature of socialist economies.
I’d like leave aside inventions, since those are intangible property and have unique issues, and instead do a comparison to land rights. If a government bought up a bunch of farmland, leased it out to farmers, and collected a share of the profits, would you consider that capitalism? To me, that falls under the rubric of feudal-style tenant farming, and I don’t think many people would consider that to be capitalistic.
I’m reading you as drawing a distinction between mineral rights and other types of property rights, and this seems like an arbitrary distinction to me. If you mean something else, please clarify.
The US would have obtained mineral rights to the North Slope when it purchased Alaska from Russia. At some point (and I haven’t been able to find out the details online), the US must have either given the North Slope to Alaska or sold it to them.
Either way, the government purchased the mineral rights and is now distributing the wealth from those mineral rights to Alaskans. This looks like classic wealth redistribution to me.
But there’s nothing really capitalistic about the state owning mineral rights. Some amount of property ownership by the government is, of course, necessary for the government to function. But I don’t see how mineral ownership falls under that. It’s not like the government needs mineral rights to run a courthouse or have a place for the legislature to meet.
The US privatized a lot of its mineral rights from the Lousiana Purchase westward through the use of things like homesteading and mineral claims. Alaska could have chosen to take this route, but they chose to keep their mineral rights collectively owned. The US has done this too in many cases. But I think it’s fair to put all of this collective ownership under the rubric of socialism and/or wealth redistribution.
*A note: technically, I don’t consider wealth redistribution and socialism to be the same thing, but they’ve come to be used interchangeably in our political discourse.