Why not (really) privatize?

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

An interesting article in The American notes that the budget crisis in California is resulting in increased private involvement in the funding and maintenance of government recreational programs, such as parks and university sports teams.

One of those organizations with an imaginative approach is the Lagunitas Brewing Company in Petaluma. The company's founder, Tony Magee, is in negotiations with California State Parks to assume the maintenance of the local Samuel P. Taylor State Park. Magee believes that through volunteer staffing and a more creative marketing approach, he can "come pretty close to breaking even" on a budget that currently runs at $1 million annually.

Further creative solutions can be seen in nearby Jack London Historic Park, also designated for closure. Working with the Los Angeles-based Transcendence Theater Company, the Valley of the Moon Natural History Association is producing an "under the stars" concert to raise the money needed to keep Jack London and other area parks open.

Transcendence's Amy Miller says, "The first time we walked into the gorgeous venue we knew it was the most remarkable space for a theatre." If the fall shows prove popular, the theater company is looking at a full slate of productions in area state parks next summer -- inspired new uses for park land. [links dropped]
To its credit, the article does not call any of this "privatization", but calling such efforts "partnerships" is bad enough, since the government, as a coercive entity, ultimately calls the shots, and shouldn't be involved in such matters anyway.

On the bright side, however, such efforts may well raise numerous opportunites (which The American has missed) to ask the following question: Why not get the government completely out of owning and running things like public parks? One rationale for having the government do this is already being refuted: the idea that were it not for the government's deep pockets, there would not be, for example, parks open to the public. Other rationales, such as the kinds noted by Brian Phillips in his book, Individual Rights and Government Wrongs (excerpted below), should also come into question.
These proposals are usually met with indignant opposition. Private companies, it is claimed, would despoil the parks by building condos on the rim of the Grand Canyon. Motivated by profit, they would erect a Starbucks in front of Old Faithful. They would raise prices and turn parks into the playgrounds of the rich, leaving the poor and middle-class with few opportunities to enjoy outdoor recreation. And, as the acting director of the National Recreation and Park Association stated in 2006, privatizing parks is un-American: "Public parks embody the American tradition of preserving public lands for the benefit and use of all."
I will note that Phillips provides plenty of examples of successful private parks, libraries, roads, and  other things the government needn't -- and shouldn't -- be involved in.

-- CAV


Anonymous said...

There is a great segment related to this in last week's This American Life. The story of Colorado Springs getting hit hard by the recession and a savvy hotel owner e-mailing the city council ideas to run the city more like a business. A huge part of that... privatize everything you can.


It is the last story in the episode and worth a listen.


Jim May said...

As the government shrinks, private initiative will necessarily fill in the cracks.

It reminds me of when I was in the hospital visiting my dad in Canada after his second-to-last heart attack. There were "donated by" plaques on most of the post-1985 equipment, everywhere.

It made me wonder whether we were slowly making our way to the "bad end" of the welfare state.

The "good end" was at the beginning, when it *appears* like lots of folks are benefitting, as if you could get something for nothing. Think the first ever beneficiary of Social Security, who paid in something like $24 but collected $16,000 or something like that.

The initial onset of socialized medicine in Canada was like that for a while; from its inception in the '60's through the 1980's, it was the "envy of Americans" and you'd hear the occasional story of an American trying to pass himself off as Canadian to take advantage of the "free" care.

But as time goes on, all these "freebies" start shrinking as the bill gets higher. Canadian socialized health care has shrunk quite a bit, for example; the system stopped covering Canadians abroad a long time ago, quite a bit of things are not covered, and what is covered is poorly so, enough that wealthy Canadians prefer the commercial alternative outside of Canada.

Social Security is the same way. Many people don't expect it to be there for them, and are engaging in private alternatives to back it up.

We've now reached the"bad end" of the welfare state, where instead of getting something for free, we are now paying for something we won't get. We are slowly being forced to do just what we would do in a society with no "safety net" -- except that we are still paying for one.

Sooner or later, things will come to such a pass that people have got to ask: what exactly are we paying for? Why are we paying for something that won't be there *and* then again for the backup?

Gus Van Horn said...


Thanks. Opportunities to listen to radio shows and podcasts are rare for be between my baby daughter and my schedule, but I'll listen if I can. In the meantime, perhaps my other readers will enjoy it.


Good points, but what I'm getting worried about is the welfare state coming to an ugly end through hyperinflation. If we somehow dodge that or survive it, then things may well get much better afterwards.