I have done a lot of work with PERC on free market approaches to public land management and environmental issues. It is a great group, and I have participated a couple of times in their summer programs. They are currently accepting applications for their 2017 summer programs.
Posts tagged ‘PERC’
Last year, when Congress did a 1-year renewal of legislation governing public recreation and fee policies (FLREA) they left out a tiny provision that discouraged government agencies from taking back tasks they had privatized. With that gone, parts of the USFS immediately began to move to bring certain operations back in house, even when doing so required that they both spend more tax money AND reduce services levels to the public. Such is the strength of incentives in any government bureaucracy to expand their scope, staffing, and budget, even when it makes no sense for the public.
This week in an article at PERC, I tell one such story in depth. Here is an excerpt:
Consider one example: The Tahoe National Forest in California recently took the operation of some of their parks out of private hands, ending a nearly 30-year partnership with one of our competitor companies.
Did the Forest Service do it to save money? The private concessionaire operated entirely with the user fees paid by visitors, using no taxpayer money, and even paid rent back to the government. The agency’s in-house operating plan for running these campgrounds requires at least $2 million in taxpayer money over the next five years to supplement user fees.
Did they do it to improve service? The private concessionaire employed more than 60 paid workers living on site, with managers who worked weekends and holidays. The Forest Service plan calls for half this number of paid employees, and none will live on site or work weekends—the busiest time for recreation.
Did they do it to address some egregious for-profit abuse? The agency is actually planning to replace dozens of paid private workers with volunteers. At the same time that the federal government is mandating higher minimum wages for campground concessionaires, the Forest Service is replacing paid workers with unpaid labor.
Did the Forest Service do it to keep user fees low? The original stated reason for kicking out the private operator was the concessionaire’s request to increase user fees in response to recent increases in California’s minimum wage. In the end, however, the Forest Service raised fees even higher than those proposed by the concessionaire.
Last year, riding the buzz over dying bees, the Obama administration announced the creation of a pollinator-health task force to develop a “federal strategy” to promote honeybees and other pollinators. Last month the task force unveiled its long-awaited plan, the National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators. The plan aims to reduce honeybee-colony losses to “sustainable” levels and create 7 million acres of pollinator-friendly habitat. It also calls for more than $82 million in federal funding to address pollinator health.
But here’s something you probably haven’t heard: There are more honeybee colonies in the United States today than there were when colony collapse disorder began in 2006. In fact, according to data released in March by the Department of Agriculture, U.S. honeybee-colony numbers are now at a 20-year high. And those colonies are producing plenty of honey. U.S. honey production is also at a 10-year high.
The White House downplays these extensive markets for pollination services. The task force makes no mention of the remarkable resilience of beekeepers. Instead, we’re told the government will address the crisis with an “all hands on deck” approach, by planting pollinator-friendly landscaping, expanding public education and outreach, and supporting more research on bee disease and potential environmental stressors.
I am sure the government, once they have had some bureaucrats running around filing reports and plans for a few years will soon claim credit for the improvement. My prediction: This agency will still be here 50 years from now. You can never kill these things once created. This is only slightly less irritating than politicians who claim that they "created X million jobs" when in office, but only slightly.
Update: Another very similar example: transfats.
The Food and Drug Administration recently moved to eliminate trans fats from the American diet, and food activists and the public-health lobby are claiming a historic victory. Yet this is a rare case of the Obama Administration regulating from behind. Markets had as much to do with the fall of trans fats as government did with their rise.
The FDA’s first restrictions on the use of partially hydrogenated oils as a major source of trans fats in processed foods—think Crisco shortening—give food makers three years to phase out the substance. Evidence began to accumulate in the early 2000s that trans fats were connected to bad cholesterol and cardiovascular diseases. Shoppers and diners concerned about health risks soon started to revolt against the fried and baked goods and the fast-food fare where they were prevalent.
Lo and behold, the food industry responded by changing their recipes and eliminating the oils from some 86% of their products. Trans fat consumption plunged by 78% over a decade, according to the FDA’s estimates, and is now well below the two grams per day that the American Heart Association says is the safe upper limit. The rare survivors of this purge are niche foods like microwave popcorn, frozen pizza and chocolate sprinkles, where trans fats are useful for improving taste and texture.
Well it has been a busy 10 days for travel. Last weekend my wife and I were at Harvard for our 25th anniversary of graduating from the business school there. The way the b-school taught at the time, they basically locked 90 people together (a "section") in the same room for a year and threw teachers and course material at them. I may have spent more time in a room with those 90 people than I spent in the same room with my dad growing up. So you get to know them pretty well. It was fun seeing everybody, though intimidating given all the folks my age running Fortune 50 companies or cashing out billion dollar startups.
After that, I went to Bozeman early this week and discussed free-market options for reforming the National Park Service at an event hosted by PERC, the Property and Environment Research Center. On Tuesday we went into Yellowstone and met with the Superintendent there, who had also run the whole agency for about a year. A lot of the discussion was about sustainability - financially. The NPS raises less than 10% of its revenue from visitors, and so must constantly fight with Congress for cash. One problem is that Yellowstone (perhaps their premier park) charges just $25 per vehicle for a one week admission. This is insane. We have tiny state parks in Arizona with one millionth of the appeal that fill the park despite a $20 a day entrance fee. And the NPS (or really Congress) takes every opportunity to discount this already absurdly low rate even further. You can get into all the parks for the rest of your life for a single $10 payment with the Senior pass. This essentially gives free entry to their largest visitor demographic.
Today I am in Houston for a sort of climate skeptics' conference. If you are in the area and the agenda looks interesting, they are still selling admissions (I think) for $75 for the two day event at the Hyatt downtown. Rick Perry is speaking tonight, and that is supposed to be a draw I guess but I am actually skipping that and focusing on the scientists they have through the day. Hopefully it is interesting, but I am also a conference skeptic so we will see.
Well, talk about good timing. My article on private operation of public parks has been published by PERC and is now up at their web site. It's called "A Tale of Two Parks" and compares the costs of private and public operation, among a number of other issues.
Not happy with how government-operated parks are being used as a pawn in today's budget battles? Check it out.
Holly Fretwell of PERC discusses the huge leap in agricultural yields since WWII
Not only does this mean that we have have billions of people on Earth and not starve, but it also has freed up labor for more productive and value-enhancing activities.
As an aside, remember this chart when global warming alarmists argue the the warming trend of the last 50 years is reducing crop yields. (If the linked article seems simply bizarre given the chart above, realize the NYT is saying that crop yields are down from what they might have been. This is the same kind of faulty logic that was used by Obama to credit his stimulus with job gains when in fact the economy was losing jobs. They posit some unproveable hypothetical, and then say reality diverged from that hypothetical because of whatever factor they are trying to push, whether it be CO2 or stimulus).
The problem with food prices is not production, its the fact that we take such a huge percentage of our food grains and, by government dictat, convert them to automotive fuel.
Holly Fretwell of PERC has completed a great new study of how use of private companies to handle park operations can help keep parks open and well-maintained. The introduction to the study is here and the study itself is here.
Some state park systems rely on tax dollars provided through state general funds. When state budgets are tight, park funding is a lower priority than projects such as schools and hospitals. Hence park budgets are quick to hit the chopping block, leading to threats of park closures or reduced services.
Rather than ride the roller coaster of state budgets, some parks have leased their operational activities to private managers. These private entities have proven they can operate the parks more efficiently, and sites that were once a drain on agency funds are now generating revenue.
Private management can provide consistent, quality stewardship as well as more customer service.
She also gives a nice plug for our upcoming national conference on November 2 in Scottsdale.
From PERC, a group focused on free-market environmentalism
The Julian Simon Fellowship has an open application process, so applications are always welcome. Review of applications will begin as soon as they are received.
The Julian Simon Fellowship is one of the nation's most prestigious opportunities for scholars to develop policy-oriented research on natural resource and environmental conservation. The in-residence fellowship is intended to continue the legacy of the late Julian Simon, whose research led to a massive re-evaluation by scholars and policy makers of their views on the interplay between population, natural resources, and the environment.
The ideal candidate for this fellowship is someone like Julian; an excellent scholar with a focus on empirical work and an imaginative research agenda that emphasizes natural resource and environmental issues.
Each Julian Simon Fellow is expected to spend at least two months in residence at PERC developing a paper of publishable quality, one that has significant policy implications. During their stay at PERC, Julian Simon Fellows are expected to present a seminar on their work.
Each Julian Simon Fellow will receive an honorarium of $20,000 plus office space, office support, and a congenial, stimulating work environment. Fellows will be responsible for their accommodations in Bozeman, but PERC is happy to assist with arrangements.