I Jog, He Reads — You Pay

All too often, people accept it as a given that just because a good or a service is important for daily life, government must provide it free of charge.

Certainly, parks and libraries can be beneficial for our physical, mental and academic well-being; therefore, for many of us — but not all — they are an essential part of life. However, like many other goods and services that are deemed necessary or important — such as food, clothing, housing, health clubs and entertainment — parks and libraries should be provided by private entities. And tax rates should be reduced by an amount equivalent to that previously used to fund parks and libraries.

Parks and libraries can be supplied in the same manner as other services: If an individual believes there is a demand for a park or library in a particular neighborhood, he can invest in building it. He can then charge admission to users, through a pay-per-use basis and/or a yearly membership fee.

The advantages of parks and libraries being privately run are many. First, people would only pay for what they use, not for what other people use. Though government currently provides parks and libraries at no cost to users, that does not mean that these services are free; government does not have its own money with which to magnanimously provide services to people. Rather, as is the case with all government services, they are paid for by taxation. Instead of you — the individual — choosing to pay for the services you want to use, you — the taxpayer — are forced to pay for a service whether you use it or not.

There is no reason everyone should have to pay taxes for parks and libraries, when the rate at which they are used varies greatly from individual to individual. Some people spend hours each week playing ball or jogging in the park, or reading in a library; others spend almost none. As with a health club, country club or restaurant, people should have the right — and duty — to pay for what they use, but not for what others use.

Furthermore, the owner of a private enterprise has the incentive to run his business as efficiently as possible, and provide the best possible customer experience. But government — which has no profit motive and little, if any, competition — has no overwhelming concern about providing a positive experience, and therefore has little reason to ensure efficiency, cleanliness or quality.

Sadly, a look at many of our parks would tell you all you need to know about how socialization of a service can lead to decay: Bent basketball rims, cracked pavements and filthy restrooms that are havens for crime are unfortunately the norm in many of our urban parks. New York’s crown jewel, Central Park, was experiencing just this sort of decay and crime until a group of concerned citizens formed the Central Park Conservancy in 1980. Privately run,  and funded mostly by voluntary donations from concerned citizens and park users, the Conservancy has restored Central Park to its former splendor, and continues to maintain it beautifully. Unfortunately, however, private entities running parks are a rare exception; not only does government crowd out the free market, it often crowds out private charities as well.

Finally, only the free market can determine the proper demand for a good or service.

How do we know how many pizza stores belong in one town or neighborhood? What about supermarkets, electronics stores or barber shops? No central planner determines these things; rather, these businesses were all founded by individuals who believed there was a demand for their goods or services in the neighborhood.

If the individual’s belief was correct, and he provides a high-quality product at a competitive price, he will succeed; if there is no demand for his products, his business fails and his resources will be channeled into a more efficient enterprise. In this manner, the “invisible hand” of the market guides the economy toward reaching an appropriate number of each type of business in each area.

But when services are run by government, there is no market signal to inform efficient allocation of resources. How many parks and libraries should there be in a particular neighborhood? Government can only guess (at best), or yield to political pressure (at worst), often resulting in either too many or too few.

In a society that is purportedly based on individual liberty, the availability of goods and services should not be based on forced taxation, socialized plans or political pressure; it should be based on supply and demand and market forces, and money from willing customers or contributors.