- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 20, 2003

The Bush administration wants to privatize the U.S. Park Service. Why stop there? If it is a good idea to privatize the Park Service, it is a good idea to privatize the Interior Department.

The gains from a privatized Park Service cannot accrue if the operation remains under the thumbs of government bureaucrats in the Interior Department. Conflicting incentives would operate.

During the 1980s, major European countries — the United Kingdom, France and Italy — divested themselves of government-run industries and financial institutions. Socialists realized government cannot run the economy as efficiently as private businesses. Why, then, do socialists think they can run government better?

In a recent book, Hans-Hermann Hoppe argued monarchs did a better job of running governments than democracies. The reason is that monarchs had a proprietary interest that give them a long-run view, whereas the short and uncertain terms of office of democrats result in short-run incentives that work against the long-run best interests of a country.

In a sense a monarch was a private owner. Whereas a return to monarchy is unlikely, we could approximate the efficiency of its incentives by turning government over to private organizations under contract.

The easiest place to start is with the presidency itself. A presidential administration is supposed to administer, a skill government clearly cannot perform as well as private business.

A board could be elected or appointed at random from a list of qualified citizens. The board would solicit bids from private organizations to administer the government for a limited term. The lowest bid or the bid that promises the most service for the least money would be accepted.

Transparency and accountability would greatly increase. Being a private business, the organization would be subject to the strict accounting standards that apply to business. In contrast, the General Accounting Office, the government accounting office, recently announced that the books of the Cabinet departments and federal agencies were in such disarray that they could not be audited. Enron and WorldCom were smacked down for far less.

Consider, also, that the organization administering the government could be fired by the board for malfeasance or nonperformance much easier than a president can be impeached or voted out of office. We would be spared long, expensive presidential campaigns — no need for McCain-Feingold — and the cynical abandonment of promises once a president is elected.

Readers might wonder about contracting out foreign policy and justice. But knowledgeable foreign policy analysts say our foreign policy is run by Israel and that at least we would know the agenda if we had a formal contract.

As for justice, who wouldn’t feel better served if the Department of Justice (sic) were run by the American Civil Liberties Union in place of the crypto-tyrants currently in charge of the DOJ?

With our voluntary armed services, we already have a mercenary army as opposed to the involuntary conscription of socialized warfare.

In a scholarly journal 30 years ago, Alvin Rabushka and I contrasted the efficiency of rule by a foreign imperialist with that of indigenous bureaucratic imperialism. We found a foreign imperialist was perceived as an imperialist, which restrained the ability of a foreign ruler to extract resources from those it governed.

In contrast, an indigenous imperialist is able to hide behind the veil of “the public interest,” in the name of which the indigenous ruler can inflict massive harm and overinvest in “public goods.”

Mr. Rabushka and I concluded everyone would be made better off if each country were ruled by another. If U.S. manufacturing can be outsourced to China, why not the government?

Why stop there? The same reasoning applies to news reporting. If the BBC’s beat was the U.S. and the New York Times’ beat was the U.K., citizens in both countries would benefit from more objective reports and have a clearer understanding of events.

Indigenous news reporting is contaminated by patriotism and the feelings of reporters and editors about social issues and the distribution of income. In contrast, U.S. issues do not have the same importance to British journalists, nor do American reporters feel as emotionally involved in British issues.

If Fox News, for example, were a Mexican news service, it wouldn’t feel obliged to let war propaganda creep into its news reports.

Americans and British could continue to experience emotions about issues, only the information presented to them would be less emotional.

These ideas might strike the reader as far-fetched. But if we are going to privatize the Park Service, we might as well take the initiative to its logical conclusion.

Paul Craig Roberts is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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