land, in law, any ground, soil, or earth regarded as the subject of ownership, including trees, water, buildings added by humans, the air above, and the earth below. Private ownership of land does not exist in groups that live by hunting, fishing, or herding; e.g., in pre-Columbian times in America, the tribe owned the land, and each individual had equal access to it and equal rights to its use. In simple agricultural groups, as in early Europe, the village community made an annual allotment of land to individuals for cultivation. Similar allotments were made under the manorial system. A communal form of rural landholding persisted in Russia into the 20th cent. and still exists in India. The modern sovereign state asserts dominion over all property within its territorial limits, including the land, and by the right of eminent domain (see public ownership) can seize privately owned land for public use, with the proviso that the owner be justly compensated. In the former Soviet Union ownership of all land was vested in the nation outright, individuals and organizations being granted provisional rights to its use. Widely distributed private ownership of farmland has been regarded in Western countries as socially—if not always economically—advantageous. The concentration of landholding in a few hands has frequently led to political unrest and social upheaval, as in Latin America, Spain, Italy, the Middle East, and parts of Asia. In economics the term land is used to designate one of the main factors of production; it is another name for nature or natural resources. But few natural resources are free; farmland, for instance, is almost valueless without cultivation. In order to extract crops, minerals, and energy from the land, labor and capital must be applied. In economic theories of value, the share assigned to land as a factor in production is called rent.
See A. W. Griswold, Farming and Democracy (1948); G. Hallett, The Economics of Agricultural Land Tenure (1960); R. E. Megarry and H. W. R. Wade, The Law of Real Property (3d ed. 1966); A. W. Simpson, A History of the Land Law (2d ed. 1986).