Washington Monument Strategy on Steroids
By David Henderson
A perennial case in point is the “Washington Monument strategy” of the National Park Service. At budget time, the service frequently threatens to curtail visiting hours at its most popular attractions, such as the Washington Monument, if its budget request is not met, and it threatens to blame Congress and the budget process when tourists complain. Other agencies use this and similar tactics to seek more support for their narrow programs. In doing so, too often they impose enormous costs on society. It is hard to imagine a private firm–even a large, bureaucratic one–responding to hard budget times by curtailing its most popular product or service. The private firm would lose too much business to the competition.
This is from Richard L. Stroup, “Political Behavior,” in David R. Henderson, ed., The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics.
I notice that this Washington Monument strategy is referred to, on Wikipedia, as the Washington Monument Syndrome. I think that’s a mistaken terminology because it’s not a syndrome as I understand the term “syndrome.” It really is a strategy.
But on to the main point of this post. It’s true, as some defenders of President Obama have pointed out, that if you are to cut “non-essential” government services, cutting the hours of U.S. Park Service employees seems a reasonable thing to do. In that sense, what Obama has done is not a clearcut instance of the Washington Monument Strategy.
It would be understandable if the government did not provide Park Service employees. But that’s not what the Obama administration did. Instead, it did provide employees to prevent people from getting to the World War II Memorial. In other words, instead of just not providing employees, the U.S. Park Service spent real resources to prevent people from getting access, even though the Memorial is outdoors and, during normal times, has unlimited access.
So what should we call this new U.S. Park Service strategy? How about the “Washington Monument Strategy on Steroids?”