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Jewish World Review April 3, 2000 /27 Adar II, 5760

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell
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Stealing Yosemite -- THIS ADMINISTRATION has gotten away with so many "explanations" that insult the public's intelligence that they are now routinely using excuses that would not stand up under even a momentary scrutiny. The latest example is the Interior Department's plan to radically restrict the public's access to Yosemite National Park.

Supposedly this is because of automobile congestion and a lack of parking space. But the Clinton administration's plans include eliminating roadways and parking lots within the park. Who else would have the brass to say that they are going to relieve congestion by closing miles of roads and relieve overcrowded parking by eliminating more than a thousand parking spaces?

Since what they say makes no sense if you stop and think about it, even for a minute, obviously they do not expect the public to stop and think about it. Equally obviously, they are doing what they are doing for some other reason that cannot be honestly discussed.

This plan is a big election-year sop to the environmentalists, who have for years been trying to restrict the general public's access to Yosemite and other national parks. It was no accident that leaders of the Wilderness Society and other environmentalists stood alongside Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbit as he announced this new plan.

Over the years, everything from hysterical rhetoric to misleading photographs have been used to create a "crisis" atmosphere about "overcrowding" in Yosemite. What the Sierra Clubbers and their ilk would like is a place where the unwashed masses are kept out and the environmentalists are let in. For example, the stables in Yosemite Valley are to be eliminated, but visitors will be free to bring their own horses. If you think the average citizen is going to have his own horse, then you have no idea how much it costs to keep a horse.

All the various plans that environmentalists and their political allies have floated over the years would keep out automobiles, thereby keeping out many families with children, many elderly people and many ordinary working stiffs who cannot spare the time for backpacking or rock-climbing expeditions or the money to buy a horse.

What the environmentalists want is for Yosemite National Park to cease being a national park and to become their own private reserve, though paid for by the taxpayers. Selfishness is not a new human failing. What is galling is total selfishness masquerading as altruistic concern for others. As someone who has visited Yosemite at least once a year for more than 20 years, I have never seen the "crisis" proportions of "overcrowding" portrayed in political propaganda by the environmentalists and their allies in Washington.

Would it be nicer to have half as many people visiting Yosemite each year? Yes -- if you were in the half that got in, rather than in the other half that would be kept out.

It would be nice if there were only half as many people allowed to do Christmas shopping at your favorite department store -- if you were among the half that got in. There are lots of things that would be nicer if you had them all to yourself. Why don't we do it that way, then? Because the cost is too great and other people have just as much right to these things as you do.

This long political battle to restrict the general public's access to national parks that their taxes pay for is all too typical of what to expect when government resources are being made available below cost. The price charged for a carload of people to enter Yosemite, and stay as long as they want, is less than they will pay for their first meal there -- less than one person among them will pay for that first meal, if they eat it at the Ahwahnee hotel's restaurant in Yosemite Valley.

In a free market, excess demand causes prices to rise until the situation corrects itself. But where the government is in control, different groups fight to get to the front of the line and force others out of the line by one means or another. That is what the environmentalists are trying to do in our national parks -- and what this administration is trying to help them do.

Libertarians might say that this is an argument for turning our national parks into private property by selling them to the highest bidder.

Environmentalists are trying to turn them into their private property on the cheap by keeping others out.

JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author, most recently, of The Quest for Cosmic Justice.


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©1999, Creators Syndicate