24 May 2011

Why Not?

It’s time to liquidate some assets:

“The United States may have run up a huge debt, but it is not a poor country…,” the Washington Post announced on Monday as Our Rulers hit their credit-limit. “The federal government owns roughly 650 million acres of land, close to a third of the nation’s total land mass. Plus a million buildings. Plus electrical utilities like the Tennessee Valley Authority. And an interstate highway system.”

If there is one thing that does not make sense to me, it is the whole concept of the federal parks system.

First, why should the government be in charge of massive amounts of land in light of the fact that it has a long history of mismanaging resources and impoverishing citizens as a result?   The government locks this land away, usually under the guise of preserving the natural beauty of the area being controlled.  This approach usually means that the land the government owns is highly overvalued for its purpose, and that it is extremely undervalued for its alternative purposes.

ANWR provides a perfect example of these tendencies.  Obviously, there is some value in preserving Alaskan wildlife.  But there is also value in drilling and refining massive amounts of Alaskan oil.  In a free market, there would be a proper balance between the two competing desires.   Environmental groups could pool their resources and buy land for a wildlife reserve while oil companies could buy land that held oil.  Unfortunately, the free market is not allowed to bring equitability to the problem.  Instead, the government is involved, which has led to conflict for the past forty years, because the government basically says that the environmental value of ANWR completely overrides the energy value of the oil contained in ANWR.

And this is the overriding principle for every park owned by the government.  It never occurs to bureaucrats that land can have multiple uses.  And it never occurs to politicians that the market can easily solve the issue of resource distribution in a way that is voluntary, thus making the largest amount of people happy.

Second, why is the government still holding onto this land in light of the current federal fiscal situation?  Selling off the parks and reserves would help to trim some of the federal budget and the money generated could be used to pay down the debt.

There’s no downside to this.  Well, maybe a lot of environmental groups will be pissed off as a result of selling off the national parks.  Like I said, there’s no downside.

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