Last Tuesday, while traveling to Falmouth, I was driving behind a car that was labeled with several bumper stickers. Although I cannot remember the exact wording of the first, it bemoaned the status of several coastal regions in North Carolina and insisted upon action. The second was the now traditional blue Obama sticker. The Obama sticker instantly made me realize that the other driver likely wanted the national government to get involved through some form of nationalization. As many liberals suggest, if the government owns the property will the crisis be solved?
A fairly well known hypothetic situation that is relevant to this issue is the tragedy of the commons. In this example, there is a parcel of land that has no owner and is available for public use. For this example let us assume that it is a grazing pasture. As no one has to neither pay for its use nor tend to the field, all the shepherds bring their flocks to graze at the communal pasture rather than use their own privately held lands. Unfortunately, this overuse by all leads to an exhaustion of the grass and the field as a whole and therefore is becoming worthless. What can be done to solve this problem? For the believer in the free market, he would argue that one person should buy the land. This idea is also known as privatization. As the logic goes, certainly a person would treat his own property responsibly and would not allow it to become worthless. He could lease out portions to help his neighbors and also create a profit. On the other hand, the statist would say that the government should take the land. This idea is known as nationalization. Controlled by the government, it could sell short-term or long-term rights to shepherds and share the profits with the community (minus the government’s take of course). Bureaucratic regulation would ensure the field’s continued viability. While one solution puts its faith in the individual and the market, the other chooses the government.
Right after seeing these two bumper stickers, I drove on a section of Highway 33 that took me through the Shenandoah National Park. And that brings up a related question. Why is it a national park? Why doesn’t the state of Virginia, or privately held groups, control the park instead? Does the federal government have the constitutional authority to run parks? Not surprisingly, one cannot find such powers granted in the Constitution. Growing up in the Valley, I heard stories of residents who were forcibly evicted from their homes when the federal government took control of the land. In my mind, with the exceptions of diplomacy and defense, the constitutional spheres of the national government, the only land under the control of the federal government should be on a small triangle on the far side of the Potomac.
The topic of nationalization brings us to another important issue, ANWR. While many people, myself included, want to see drilling in the ANWR region in order to lower gas prices (at least temporarily), environmentalists want to preserve the area for the natural wildlife and flora. Despite how you fall on this issue, it should not be of national concern. Why should a Virginian who does not own the property, and hasn’t even set foot in Alaska, have any say as to what becomes with the land? If the federal government didn’t hold the land, my thoughts and many others on the matter would be fairly irrelevant. We need more privatization and less nationalization. Nationalization is for quasi-dictatorships like Venezuela, Middle Eastern, and African nations, not us. If a private citizen or company owned the land, what they did on their own property would be their own business (with a few obvious exceptions). If Alaska owned the land as opposed to the feds, then it would be an issue for Alaska, her citizens, and lawmakers, not Congress and special interest groups from around the nation. Whatever happened to the free market? If we truly supported the concept of laissez-faire, one potential solution other than to give the land to Alaska to deal with would be to offer the land to the highest bidder. Oil interests, environmentalists, and any other interested party could all make their offer. Regardless of the outcome, it would finally settle the issue fairly.
One additional burning question is, why don’t our politicians advocate privatization over nationalization? Don’t any of them, especially the conservative Republicans, hold to these values? I think one can find a lot of similarities between today’s Republicans and Great Britain’s Tory party of the mid 1970s. As we have laboured under a massive federal government that has bloated far beyond its constitutional limits for such a long time, too many have become accustomed to it. They have bought into the neocon rhetoric that a massive government can be a good thing, provided that the Republican Party holds the reins. Where is our Margaret Thatcher to restore some semblance of sound fiscal policy, with a tightened monetary supply, privatization, slashed government taxes, and spending? We need reform now more than ever. Unless we are willing to stand behind leaders who support the constitution and privatization, we shouldn’t expect any improvement.