The Abject Humanism of It All I: Parks and Recreation, Research Time, 19/07/2017

So here’s something I came across reading Milton Friedman that I found really interesting. In the light of some contemporary politics and prosecutions around who has the right to do what on government-owned land in the United States, it’s worth thinking on.

He talks about the national park system in the United States, and how he thinks it should be privatized to individual businesspeople. So far, so doctrinaire. But think about the reasons why.

Friedman doesn’t position himself in any way like the activism of the Bundy family. He’s much more sedate, as benefits a professor rather than a cattle rancher.

He thinks national parks and federal nature reserves should be privatized because of general libertarian principle against government ownership of all that much. But he also thinks that private companies could achieve the same purpose much better.

Come on, son! You and your dad are goin' fishin'! Hyuk!
So what purpose does he consider national parks to have?

Camping. Hiking. Fishing. The enjoyment of the great outdoors. All that good old Outdoor Life Network stuff.

While outdoorsmanship may have been the original purpose of the national parks in Teddy Roosevelt’s mind, national park and reserve systems do a lot more than that now.

Friedman thinks about none of the ecological achievements of government or public trust in stewardship of the land. Setting aside at least some land from the reach of exploitation, if you do it with enough ecological knowledge and care, can mean the difference between a resilient ecosystem and total collapse.

Now, I don’t expect Friedman or that many other people writing in the early 1960s to have thought of this aspect of the problem. Rachel Carson was a lonely voice for a long time.

Even if you leave that critique to the side, there’s a blindness in Friedman’s thinking. It’s the blindness that anything in the world is only as good as its customer service value. No public service besides customer satisfaction.

That’s a world of incredible poverty. Maybe not poverty in terms of wealth and riches. But I mean poverty as a drab, trivial world. There’s too much of the human view in that way of thinking. Too much reduction. Too much humanity.

I think I’ll talk more about the problem of humanity tomorrow. It’s not like humanity doesn’t have plenty of problems.

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