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Milton Friedman on Environment

Libertarian Economist


City parks justifiably public; national parks can be private

Almost everyone at first sight regards the conduct of National Parks as obviously a valid function of government. In fact, however, neighborhood effects may justify a city park; they do not justify a national park, like Yellowstone National Park.

What is the fundamental difference between the two? For the city park, it is extremely difficult to identify the people who benefit from it and to charge them for the benefits which they receive.

The entrances to a national park like Yellowstone, on the other hand, are few; most of the people who come stay for a considerable period of time and it is perfectly feasible to collect admission charges. This is indeed now done, though the charges do not cover the whole costs. If the public wants this kind of an activity enough to pay for it, private enterprises will have every incentive to provide such parks. I cannot myself conjure up any neighborhood effects or important monopoly effects that would justify governmental activity in this area.

Source: Capitalism and Freedom, by Milton Friedman, p. 31 , Nov 15, 1962

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Page last updated: Oct 10, 2013