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Libertarian ignores Central Park history to protect ideology

Posted in Uncategorized by Mike Byrd on October 12, 2010

Libertarian arguments against government–namely that we would be better with the most minimal form of governance if we would allow the “free” market to rule–suffer their own legitimacy crisis lately in the wake of news that a Tennessee squad of firefighters stood around and allowed a home to burn to the ground because the owners forgot to pay their subscription fee to the firefighters. Morality of the free market proved to be bankrupt in this situation, but this is not the first time the conservative ideology found itself wanting.

One of the other fatal problems with Libertarianism as a world view is the way it becomes a stack pole propping half-baked histories that are warped, filled with holes and disintegrating. Millton Friedman exhibited the tendencies of libertarians to fabricate history to suit the ideology with an interviewer who brought up the trepidation of New Yorkers toward the prospect of privatizing Central Park:

If Central Park were not owned by the government, it never would have become the filthy place it became. You forget what happened to Central Park. We–for years, for some years, a long, long time ago–lived on Central Park West. We were in New York. This was during the war …. We were able to take our children down to the park when they were babies … even with a teenage sitter, and nobody was worried about safety. But in more recent years, until the very recent years, Central Park came to be a place where you wouldn’t dare to that. It wasn’t safe. That was because it was a government park.

The central principle is that nobody takes care of somebody else’s property as well as he takes care of his own. If Central Park were privately owned, it would be advantageous to provide a recreational space.

The nearly-150-year history of New York City’s Central Park does not seem like the spiral to ruin that Friedman made it to be to serve his sermons against government. Instead, it seems to be a history of growing progress and democratization over the decades.

And Friedman was disingenuous in referring to how safe the park was in the mid-40s when his children were babies without mentioning the historical context of dramatic enhancements due to federal government money that flowed in the preceding decade from Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Here is the actual history around the time Friedman lived near the park:

In 1934, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia placed Robert Moses in charge of a new centralized citywide park system. During his twenty-six year regime, Moses introduced many of the facilities advocated by the progressive reformers. With the assistance of federal money during the Depression, Moses built 20 playgrounds on the park’s periphery, renovated the Zoo, realigned the drives to accommodate automobiles, added athletic fields to the North Meadow, and expanded recreational programming.

So, why does Friedman blame the extension of government oversight of the park for eroding safety in later decades? The 50’s and 60’s were characterized less by government control and more by private-public partnerships. Why not blame the accommodation of automobiles, which gave criminal elements quick access and egress?

The 1970’s, which were years of spiking crime rates in Central Park, were also haunted by a receding government in budget crisis and long-term decline in maintenance. These are the very years Friedman seems to be reacting to. However, there are no guarantees that private enterprise would have managed the park or prevented crime any more effectively. They would be just as likely to cut spending on maintenance and security to survive. The reality is that there was a correlation between lower government revenues and urban decay.

Milton Friedman’s diatribes against government prove to be irrelevant at the local level, especially when the history of municipalities does not mesh with his ideology. Unfettered big business would be no more effective and in some ways it would be more hazardous to the progress and democratization that civic processes create.