Many libertarians like to focus on so-called “big issues” like war, entitlement spending, domestic surveillance, and monetary policy. That is understandable. Excessive, or any, government involvement in any of those areas, and more still, is a fundamental threat to liberty, justice, and prosperity.
However, those big issues are beyond the pale for most average citizens to do anything about, and most of our friends and neighbors have even less of an incentive to care.
This why I and libertarians like myself who don’t have a lot of influence or prestige prefer to focus on small issues. This position is often looked upon with scorn from such Great Libertarians as Murray Rothbard, the economist, historian, and philosopher of ideas.
In his very influential essay War, Peace, & the State, Rothbard mocks those in the Liberty Movement who would choose to focus on privatizing municipal garbage collection rather than fight for peace.
I believe this is an incorrect attack. To have everyone focus only on such great important issues like those mentioned above misses two fundamental points: 1) while we should always learn more and do what we can to score victories for liberty on the Great Issues, most of us will never have any important role to play on those fronts, and 2) by only focusing on problems that are national in scope, we add to the narrative that all important things reside in Washington, at the expense of ignoring the problems of our own local communities, which arguably have a much greater impact on an individual’s life, freedom, and property.
Take the issue of parks, for example. Some libertarians believe this is a cop-out, or a milquetoast issue–one that is not worth the time of a “principled” freedom fighter.
But consider this. In the city where I live, Boise, residents live under a public park management regime that gleefully persecutes and shakes down dog owners with steep tickets who are caught with dogs off-leash, while simultaneously not designating any space or hours where dog glovers can enjoy parks free of government harassment. (The city ironically does not penalize failure to pick your dog’s waste, however).
And not content with ticketing “criminal” off-leash dog owners with hefty fines, the city’s Parks & Rec Department is attempting to outright ban dogs from three more of Boise’s limited number of parks.
Now perhaps my more prestigious libertarians might snub such a trivial issue. But I disagree.
Living in a city rich with privately owned, operated, and financed parks would dramatically increase the liberty and quality of life for all residents–especially dog owners.
Since parks would operate along the incentives of the market, competition and choice would create a flourishing array of different types of spaces, catering to all sorts of different park-goers.
Those who wanted dog parks could have their parks, those who didn’t could have theirs. Those who want open shops selling goods could have theirs. Those who want yoga, or music, or daily Christian sermons could all have their individualized choices.
The possibilities are endless, really. This simple and easy-to-fight-for principle of non-governmental parks financed voluntarily by citizens would do an immense amount of good. People could live freer, adding another layer of protection of police, the quality of the parks would increase property values for residents, and people would be able to keep more of their money to spend on what they want.
The liberty to live free and go to the parks I want to pay for is nothing “trivial” to me.
And it’s already being done in many places. Central Park, once decrepit and dangerous after being run by New York City for so many decades, was turned over to a private company and is now safer and better than ever, even though it’s still a “public-private partnership,” where the city still technically owns the property.
But it’s not just parks. Private education, private road financing and ownership, private zoning/urban planning, free market health care alternatives, mutual aid, water markets, pollution control, private firefighters, private community policing, private dispute resolution, hell, even private navies for protecting sea voyages all make our individual lives more free and our communities better.
And that is not “trivial” fact at all.