Tom Hurst writes on liberty, free markets, private property rights, government and the Constitution from Nevada, USA
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Dear Mayor, Sell Us Our Parks and Sidewalks!

By Tom Hurst, 28 January 2007

Dear Mayor Goodman,

I understand that you have a problem with your city parks and sidewalks here in Las Vegas. All sorts of homeless people and vagrants are sleeping and defecating wherever they please, those same souls are sometimes panhandling money and food from those you consider "legitimate" park users, and a veritable legion of porn peddlers harass our casino visitors on public sidewalks. Unfortunately, the laws of public property - at least Constitutional ones - don't much distinguish between the wholesome sort of users and the vagrants and porn merchants. In any case, with things as they are, who in their right mind would go to one of your parks for a walk, let alone allow their kids to visit one unsupervised? And what sort of impression are our casinos making on visitors? Certainly not the one they'd like to make. So, in a practical sense, your allowing just anyone to use parks and sidewalks makes them useless to most who might use them. This must be a serious problem because in addition to (unconstitutionally) harrassing solicitors in the casino areas, you've even closed some parks recently. Well, feeling your pain, I've given your quandary some thought and believe I have the perfect solution. I'll talk about parks first and get to the sidewalk issue later on.

First off, let's understand that public parks, golf courses and such are socialism, period. It's not a pretty picture, and many will deny it, but it really is classic socialism wherein, using the force of government, the few are supported by the many. You presumptiously take money from everyone in the city to pay for your parks, not caring at all that the citizens you supposedly serve may need that money for their own purposes. Some folks don't make much money and may have trouble meeting their rent, and others need money to care for their kids or elderly parents. Or maybe they're just selfishly saving for their own retirement. In fact, nearly all of your constituents work only because they need money to live - and with you and other statists running the show they have to work a lot more than they would otherwise. You see, the taxes they pay to government, including yours, are so high that many families find that both parents need to work. Yes, Oscar, the term "two-income family" exists primarily due to extreme taxes. Thank you very much, big government! So, regardless of how you justify it, your taking money from people hurts them.

And then there is the issue of the parks themselves. From the very beginning they are unjust and full of compromise. Though some people may be satisfied with your idea of what and where a park should be, surely there are others that live far away from a park and think it should be closer to them. And certainly some that live nearby would prefer a more peaceful neighborhood far from a park. Then there are the inevitable squabbles over exactly what activities should be offered at any given park, with those pleased because their favorite activity is offered versus those screwed because theirs is not. Of course, the biggest crime of all is that most people simply don't use your parks at all even though you make them pay for them. Frankly, I'd be shocked if more than 10% of the people that pay for your parks actually use them. Myself, I've lived in Las Vegas for nearly 40 years and have only been in a park once, for an hour or so. Talk about poor value for my money! I can sort of understand that we citizens are asked to pay for a bit of a missile that may be used to defend America at some point, but to forcibly extract money from us to pay for someone else's hobby - which recreation is, really - is totally asinine. Parks and golf courses are a golden subsidy for those who use them - the classic "free ride", plain and simple - but a total rip-off for everyone else.

Since I'm a patriot and not at all "red" like your colleagues and advisors, my solution to your problem would necessarily eliminate the socialist aspect of parks - to your benefit as you will soon see. The basic idea is to transfer parks from public ownership - and the necessity of allowing "the public" access - to private ownership wherein the property owner controls who does what in their park. On the city's side, first you would save the maintenance costs of the parks. Though I don't know how much you spend on that these days, some years ago the Las Vegas Review Journal claimed that you spent on the order of $20,000 per acre per year for maintenance and security. All I can say to that is, WOW! I doubt anyone else in the valley pays that much! For that kind of money, one would expect your parks to be really, really, really nice places. In any case, multiplying that figure by the number of acres of park that you maintain is a sizable chunk of money - many millions of dollars per year, for sure. So, there would be substantial savings which you could either use to hire more overpaid government parasites or, more honorably, reduce taxes so people in your city can live better. Second, the city would also reap the actual sales price of the parks that it sells. Again, lots of cash. And since cash buys political power, you and all of your politician and bureaucrat friends should again be very happy. Third, you would be seen as a job creator because the basic law of supply-and-demand insures that there would be all sorts of new opportunities for entepreneurs to create specialized pay-for-play sports facilities. Fourth, mine would be an absolutely 100% Constitutional solution - and judging from some of your recent ideas, that important aspect seems to elude you much of the time.

Most importantly, though, the solution is also fair to citizens in that each would get what they pay for. Those that choose to band together to buy a "community" park - really becoming part owners in a private company - would be entitled to use the park, probably for free. They would fence their park or have security officers to make sure that only those who are entitled would gain entry. And I'm sure they'll be much nicer parks than any you could provide - pride of ownership, you know, as compared with your sad "tragedy of the commons" parks. Folks who choose to not buy membership in a private park would obviously not have their own park to use, but they would still have their money. And by making the choice not to buy park access, they would be telling you that they value other things their money might buy more than a park. Of course, they might be allowed to use someone else's park if they agree to pay an entry fee. In either case, since all parks would be private property, vagrants and the homeless would be unlikely to gain entry and ruin the park experience for those who are paying for it. And lest you think that specialized users like the poor Little League or the 30-something-after-work-drunk's baseball league would be left out, I expect that if push comes to shove at least the Little League, which is already a company of sorts, would be willing to pay for their hobby by financing ball parks for their own use. I exclude the drunk's league only because I suspect that most of those folks are only playing ball because under your current system they don't have to pay for the privilege. In any case, if those groups who did buy their own ball parks or golf courses are smart they would attempt to defray their new expenses - expenses that used to be paid by other taxpayers - by renting their facilities out when they aren't using them.

Further, in addition to privatizing existing parks, golf courses and such, I would suggest that you never build any new ones, ever. Yes, there would be some neighborhoods without parks because some developers would cater to people who don't want parks. Of course, the obvious benefit is that such houses would be more affordable because developers would not be including the cost of a park in the price. But, never fear, the free market guarantees that other developers would then realize that the market segment consisting of folks that want parks is unserved and would create subdivisions that include parks as part of their (higher) house prices. The proof that this concept would work is that it already is working. Every day, people who buy houses show they are willing to pay for parks by investing in their own private parks - they're called yards, and most houses have at least a small one. Even condominiums have community green areas paid for by their residents, not taxpayers. Beyond that, further proof that demand creates supply is that people who like to swim install pools, those who have the income and like tennis build tennis courts, and some even choose to live in private golf course communities. The beauty of my proposal is that people who want parks would pay for them, and those who do not want them would not pay. What could be fairer than the market providing to people what they are willing and able to pay for? Recreation then becomes simply a matter of taste and means, and that is clearly much fairer than your socialist scheme wherein the government makes some folks park parasites while others become unwilling hosts bleeding money for the "common good". That's just another name for greedy people hoping to use government force to get a free ride on the backs of other citizens. Like it or not, justice demands that people should instead pay for their own hobbies.

I suppose that one could claim that the poor might not have access to parks, but I would observe two things about that. First, most people, no matter what their income, somehow seem to have survived so far, park or not. But far more importantly, one must accept that in a society of free men one simply does not have a right to a park. To claim such a right would demand that other taxpayers pay for that right with their servitude (taxes), and that is unjust and unconstitutional. Truly, the best motivation for people to not be poor, is for them to be poor and realize how sad a state it is. This is, after all, America, and everyone can through their own labors better themselves if they care to. In fact, there is great income mobility in this country, with most poor people becoming middle class in little more than a few years, and 15% or so even going on to become upper class in as little time. So, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, "Equal rights for all, special privileges for none."

As for solicitors on the sidewalks along the Strip and the Fremont Street Experience, my approach to solve problems of who gets to use what "public" resource - respecting private property rights and people's right to keep the fruits of their labors - would work equally well. As with parks, the fact that the sidewalks in front of the casinos are not owned by the casinos is what allows literally anyone to use or abuse them. Selling the Strip sidewalks and the Fremont Street Experience property to the adjoining casinos would allow them to exclude whomever they wish - porn solicitors, I presume, are your main concern here - from their now private property. Any exclusion policy that didn't explicitly discriminate on the basis of gender, race or religion would, I expect, hold up in any Constitutional court in the land. Casinos could also forbid the numerous porn newspaper stands that currently litter these sidewalks and block passage. Again, the city would not only resolve the image problem associated with having porn solicitors continually harass our visitors, but would benefit financially because security and maintenance costs associated with the sidewalks would become the responsibility of the new property owners instead of taxpayers.

There are only two potential problems that I see in any of this. First, some casinos might be remiss in policing their new private property, but the city could go after them using various (unconstitutional) zoning and nuisance ordinances that are already on the books. Or, more appropriately, adjacent casinos might even offer to buy out the troublesome owner to improve their own property value. And, second, I suppose everyone would have to have an opportunity to bid on a park or sidewalk. Never fear, though, I doubt the ACLU has the financial wherewithal to outbid the casinos and turn the sidewalks into embarrassing ultra-free zones. A successful bid by the ACLU would be an ironic travesty, though, considering your relationship with them!

So, here it is. Private property would absolutely save your "public" parks, sidewalks and promenades. No more worries about those horrible vagrants eating and defecating in your parks, and no more porn merchants harassing visitors on our sidewalks and promenades. And at the same time there would be lots of extra money either in your pocket or in those of your citizens. And, don't worry, demand and the free market would guarantee that we do not become a park-less city. Problem solved! It's been a pleasure doing business with you! Please pay my consulting fee asap - we all know that government pays far more for far less every day! And contact me soon so that we can discuss your libraries!

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Tom Hurst - Defender of liberty, free markets, private property rights, and the Constitution