If it were not for the government, who would build the roads? Who would educate the children? Who would keep the parks clean? These questions usually are posed by progressives who think they have taken libertarians to task. We have already seen pizza companies maintaining the roads and private schools and homeschoolers doing an admirable job teaching students. Now, we’re learning that the free-enterprise system can keep parks, including government-run ones, clean.
These tourist dollars are essential to the survival of small businesses…
Keeping Yellowstone Clean
Because the government has been partially closed for nearly three weeks, several national parks have been pretty much abandoned. Without staff on hand, the trash is piling up, and bathrooms look like they’re managed by an uncouth teenager working at 7-Eleven. Access is now free since no one is available to collect the $35-per-car fee. The trade-off, however, is a dirty park.
Well, except if you’re visiting Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming or Montana.
Yellowstone attracts roughly 30,000 visitors every month, even in the middle of winter, contributing $18.2 billion to the local economy. These tourist dollars are essential to the survival of small businesses, from restaurants to tour guides to snowmobile rentals. Just be careful of that guy in a wagon claiming that Yellowstone will be the epicenter of the apocalypse!
In other words, private enterprises in the area have an incentive to ensure Yellowstone continues to be accessible to tourists. So, what are they doing? These companies, led by Xanterra Parks and Resorts, are gathering funds to ensure the roads are maintained, the restrooms are packed with toilet paper, and the trash bins are emptied. They are even paying staff to work in the park.
Up to this point, it costs about $7,500 a day.
They aren’t embracing altruism; they are just watching out for their bottom line. And there is nothing wrong with that. While these businesses are not pleased with the government shutdown, it is a testament to the power of incentive. It is also further evidence that you do not need the state to run a park.
California suffered a devastating wildfire that killed 100 people, wounded 80, and created $4 billion in damages late last year. The media predictably blamed the tragic event on global warming and President Donald Trump. This was fake news. It was years of mismanagement, egregious regulations, and big government that caused the wildfires.
Most forests are engulfed in dead trees. The saplings are crushed together and consume the water that old-growth trees need, causing them to endure an infestation of pests and a precipitous slide to death. What is necessary is thinning, which can be performed by private logging firms. However, pressured by environmentalists to preserve forests in their natural state, lawmakers have refrained from easing regulations to allow the thinning to take place. California partially saw the light when Gov. Jerry Brown (D-CA) loosened restrictions on logging practices: Private landowners can cut trees up to 36 inches in diameter and build roads 600 feet long without a permit.
The wildfires also taught us about something else: private firefighting services.
Kanye West and his wife, Kim Kardashian, hired private firefighters to save their neighborhood. The celebrity couple employed a private team to preserve their $60 million mansion by digging several ditches to create a fire break that fended off the inferno. This saved their neighbors’ homes, too. Property owners had an incentive to take preventive steps, and the market came up with innovative measures to stop or prevent fires. Bureaucracies have little such enticement and mostly implement outdated rules.
Space is another frontier being handled exceptionally well by the private sector. Elon Musk’s SpaceX is developing reusable rockets, Richard Branson’s Virgin is establishing space tourism, and artificial intelligence is sending space exploration into warp speed.
No Government Necessary
For decades, we have relied on the government for everything, from constructing roads to battling fires to aiding the impecunious. But this wasn’t always the case. Throughout America’s history, the free-enterprise system, voluntarism, and philanthropy managed these aspects of society, not the leviathan. Many factors explain what changed, but more important is teaching the public that the government is superfluous for most functions of our society. It will require one situation at a time to showcase that government is an impediment, not a solution.