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I recently read Anthony de Jasay's fantastic Social Contract, Free Ride, and after a while I made it a point to read it in Central Park. It seems like one of the grandest, most visible examples of a privately-funded public good. As Jasay would argue, it would be all too easy to put up gates and restrict access to the park, so as to exclude non-contributors. But that would never happen, because much of the value of the park is in it being open to the public. It is a public good by choice, and many 'suckers' (my family included) readily contribute to it because it has a high 'productivity of publicness.'

The "market" is a subset of voluntary transactions. For a classical liberal, it is the "voluntariness" of an arrangement that recommends it: not its efficiency or its production of pecuniary profit.

There was a vast array of private charity in both the UK and US before the advent of the welfare state. The welfare state crowds that out, but much survives. I just spent an evening with folks who operate a private, nonprofit food bank in an area of 80,000 square miles, from the Eastern Sierras in CA through much of Nevada.

CA State parks are underfunded due to the state's fiscal crisis. Next year, many will be closed. The political left would rather close them than let some sort of private operators come in and run them.

Private solutions for public need. That is freedom.

I don't know if you can make a causal link between the fact that donations were privately provided and the fact that the park's condition has improved over time.

I also think you make a false dichotomy between "private" and "public" institutions. What Elinor Ostrom talked about was "community", not private or public, management. It just helps to be careful with wording in this case.


If you read the article by Vanderkam, I think you will find the causal link. It's obvious to anyone with eyes.

J Oxman,

Correlation does not imply causation. How do you know that Central Park would not have turned out better under an alternate system of management?

I support Ostrom-type institutions, but let's not claim causality when there's no scientific proof for it.


The non-profit operation hired people to directly work in the park. That is the alternate system, since it was terrible under direct NYC management.

You are right the correlation does not imply causation. But the preponderance of the evidence favors it strongly in this case.

I would bet strongly against bad odds that similar actions taken elsewhere would yield similar results.

"That is the alternate system, since it was terrible under direct NYC management."

There isn't just one alternate system. If this article proves anything it's that there's a continuum of ownership structures.

I could easily refute your last point through the example of Banff National Park, which is controlled by the Canadian government. It is managed brilliantly, however. You should visit some time.

That's not to say that a community (NOT "private") system of economic governance wouldn't achieve the same outcome in Banff, but hey, it it ain't broke don't fix it.

I'm familiar with Banff, having been there a few times. Clearly, resources matter.

But I can use your own hypothesis to refute your claim. You say: "How do you know that Central Park would not have turned out better under an alternate system of management?"

How do you know Banff wouldn't be better under an alternate system of management.

I realized something. You aren't actually talking about causation. You are talking about counterfactuals. This or that that would be better if such and so.

Unless you think some underlying factor that is not captured here caused the change in Central Park, we do have a causative link between the private funding and actions taken and the improvement in the park.

So pray tell, what is the missing underlying factor?

I already, claimed, J Oxman, that Banff may indeed function well under a community-based system of economic governance. Please reread my post.

Do I think we should switch Banff to a community-based governance model? No. Like I said, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Besides, like most people - and most Canadians - I am risk-averse.

I have no idea what the underlying factor is, or if there is indeed one. I am merely pointing out that we cannot make the causal link that Horwitz appears to be so confident about.

The interesting point is that I only stated the correlation. I certainly implied the causation, as did the original author, but your description of my supposed "confidence" makes it seem like I laid down the ideological hammer, when I did no such thing. I "noted" that the change in condition happened around the same time as the change in structure and then further commented that it seemed an Ostrom-like solution.

You seem to be reading my argument much more strongly than I actually made it.

Fair enough Steve. You implied the causation, and I don't mean to make your argument seem stronger than it is. I apologize for misleading you.

However, I think that the implication itself can mislead some readers. Even J Oxman, who appears to be an intelligent person, claimed, initially, that the causation is apparent to anyone with a pair of eyes.

Nonetheless, the Central Park Conservancy offers an interesting case study perhaps.

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