Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Moderate’s Short Walk Down Libertarianism

The routine walk I take with Mugsy, my English Bulldog, winds its way downhill and south from our home and back through Rockwood Park, a wonderful but very small Durham City Park stretching northeast from Nana’s Restaurant and behind the Thai Café along both sides of Third Fork Creek.

For at least three or more decades, ultra-conservative libertarians have argued against public parkland such as this not because they believe we shouldn't have parkland but because they think it shouldn’t be owned and maintained by the public.Rockwood Park

There are many things for which to commend Rockwood Park, including the stands of wonderful towering hardwood trees, the sidewalk that loops around the entire Park including three very cool bridges, great playground equipment for young children, restrooms, a water fountain, two outdoor grills, a picnic shelter, a basketball court and convenient dispensers in case you forgot or ran out of bags with which to pick up after your dog.

However, libertarians would point to some obvious government neglect, including the fact that the recent repaving of the street leading into the park stopped 30 feet short of paving the small unkept and potholed parking lot where the street dead ends into the park or why the picnic shelter has a giant hole in the roof and the grills are rusted out as are most of the trash receptacles and why the turf, which would be excellent for games of all kinds, has been allowed to degrade into nothing but weeds.

Almost everyone values public space of this kind, but libertarians argue that it would be better provided and better maintained by the free market. I can see how the spontaneous, self-organizing, learn-by- results nature of the free marketplace might eventually come to value open space and that pricing could ultimately make sure that it was better maintained.

But as a moderate, I wonder just how long that would take and how much devastation would be created before the individual decisions in the marketplace would come close to resulting in a park like this let alone a consistent system of parks and the added value they create for neighborhoods and the community as a whole?

Is pricing in the marketplace really that practical as a solution for creating and maintaining open space? At the same time, I wonder why the park isn't better maintained by the public sector using tax revenue, which in essence is a form of what clinical economists term corrective pricing, as a means to provide quality-of-life amenities that are unrealistic for individual homeowners, neighborhoods and small groups of citizens to provide.

Libertarianism is an interesting theory, but not as an overarching  solution. But those who genuinely think that way and believe in their principles may have a point. Starving government is obviously not the solution but few can deny that our government obviously needs to be held more accountable.

1 comment:

Reyn said...

I'm happy to report that the hole in the roof with the picnic shelter has apparently been repaired, something that would not have been necessary at all if proper maintenance had not been deferred.