Think Local Management

The argument for local management of local parks—such as the Joint Powers Authority & nonprofit management we advocate for the Parkway—is examined in this article from the Property & Environment Research Center.

An excerpt.

“Proponents of free market environmentalism do not usually invoke government as part of the solution to environmental problems. But when they do, free market environmentalists promote governance by the smallest entity possible. PERC, for example, advocates using land trusts or endowment boards to help manage public lands. Arguments for smaller government imply that local control will produce better environmental policy because representatives are closer to their constituents and, therefore, more responsive. It is also argued that competition between multiple smaller governments leads to better policy outcomes. When governments compete, constituents win.

“Is Local Always Better?

“There are typically three arguments given for local representation offering better solutions to environmental problems. First, local governments better represent local interests; and there might be shared values between local interests and the interests of free market environmentalists. Regarding the management of the Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument, for example, many locals preferred less governmental supervision of the land and free market environmentalists were recommending an administrative trust arrangement. But this alignment of interests ought to be thought of as subject to change, or even accidental. Moreover, this representation of local interests might instead facilitate overexploitation.

“Consider the case of a fishing stock shared by two localities. Each local jurisdiction might, depending on the alignment of interests, have the incentive to overexploit at the expense of the other jurisdiction. Clearly this would be the case if both local governments represented fishers. Each would have the incentive to overfish—to snag the fish before the other locality could do so. Thus, with public good problems that cross political boundaries, the tragedy of the commons brought about by individual decisions can simply be replicated by the decisions of local governments. Consequently, this reasoning should be put aside as a convenient but ultimately unconvincing argument for local control.

“The second, and more compelling, argument for local control is that representation of local interests produces better environmental outcomes. Favorable environmental outcomes might come about because of superior local understanding and knowledge of an environmental situation. This is the reasoning invoked by arguments against “one-size-fits-all” command-and-control solutions to environmental problems. For example, residents might know where the spawning grounds of the fishery are and be able to encourage the local government to limit fishing in those grounds. Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom argues that, for small common pool resources, this localized knowledge plays an important role in designing the appropriate institutions to govern and enforce the rules regarding the resource.

“Given the role of localized knowledge, it seems clear that a more appropriate argument than to simply prefer local over state control and state over national control is to match the size of the government to the size of the environmental problem. If the size of government was infinitely customizable to each issue, it should be no larger than the size of the problem. Governments of various sizes, however, are costly to set up, so choices must often be made from a discrete set of levels. With this consideration in mind, optimal jurisdiction size can actually be larger than the scope of the problem since it might be necessary to choose federal over state management for a regional problem.

“The third argument for local government as preferable to larger governments is that multiple jurisdictions can facilitate competition, even for public goods. As the Tiebout model explains, people can choose which jurisdiction they prefer by voting with their feet. This process encourages local governments to provide quality public goods. This is perhaps easiest to see in the market for houses near high-quality public schools, but it also seems to hold in the environmental arena. Economist and PERC fellow Spencer Banzhaf and his colleague Randall Walsh recently found that areas around large industrial facilities with high levels of pollution experienced population decline, while neighborhoods that cleaned up gained population. This movement of people, and potential voters, gives local governments the incentive to provide public goods.”

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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