This past week, at least 200 families lost their homes in Arizona because the of the terrible forest fires there. Who is to blame?

Arizona Gov. Jane Hull and U.S. Forest Service chief Dale Bosworth condemned bad forest management by government agencies.

I couldn’t agree with them more.

Notice that forests owned by private companies rarely have dangerous fires. Private forests usually are hurt only when fires in national parks spread into them.

But the problems aren’t just with forest fires. Any government ownership is a recipe for disaster.

Have you noticed that almost all major pollution occurs on government property – in national parks, in its rivers, streams and lakes, and on its land?

Private-public comparison

For example, government forests in the Blue Mountains of Oregon are a disaster. Nearly all the seed-bearing pines have been destroyed, and insects have devastated the forest.

But next door is a Boise Cascade forest that’s had almost no insect damage. And Boise keeps its forest replenished, to protect its investment. So its forest looks much as it did a century ago.

The same comparisons exist with mining or grazing. Private owners take care with their own lands to preserve the value for eventual resale. But when private companies lease government property, neither the companies nor the government managers have any incentive to protect the value of the property.

Government management

And government agencies pollute their own property.

Why shouldn’t they? They’re exempt from almost all the harsh, expensive laws the politicians impose on private companies.

From raw sewage in the lakes and streams of Yellowstone Park to Navy oil spills in Washington’s Puget Sound to PCBs making fish inedible in the Shenandoah River, government managers devastate government facilities.

The EPA estimates it will take $280 billion to clean up all the sites the federal government has polluted.

All this devastation isn’t an accident. Nor is it a case of hiring the wrong people to manage government property. It’s the direct result of putting property in the hands of people who have no personal interest in its future value.

The most effective way to reduce pollution is for the government to sell its properties to private companies who will safeguard the future value – taking care because the company’s future profits depend upon the value of its properties.

There’s more …

And it isn’t just lands the government should sell.

It owns trillions of dollars worth of assets it shouldn’t have – power companies, pipelines, idle military bases, business enterprises, over 400,000 buildings, oil and mineral rights, commodity reserves and much more.

There’s no reason for the government to hoard these assets. They can be sold to the public – putting them in the hands of people who will treasure them and use them responsibly and productively.

What to do with the proceeds

To keep the markets from being depressed, the sales should take place over a six-year period. I’d prefer that it be six days, but that would reduce the proceeds.

It’s impossible to know how much money the sales would bring because this has never been done before. Estimates have ranged from $5 trillion to $50 trillion. But if the sales bring even $12 trillion, two thorny problems would be solved.

First, the initial proceeds could be used to buy private retirement accounts for everyone now receiving Social Security ? lifetime annuities from stable insurance companies that have never broken their promises. And anyone between age 50 and retirement could get an annuity that begins paying at age 65. No retiree would have to worry about Social Security’s future solvency.

Since Social Security would have no further liability to anyone, it could be shut down entirely – and neither you nor your children would ever again have to pay that fraudulent 15 percent Social Security tax. Anyone under 50 would save more from ending the tax than he’d give up in future Social Security benefits.

Second, the remaining proceeds from the asset sales could pay off the entire federal debt. You, your children, and your grandchildren would be free of the burden the politicians have piled on you – and the government’s yearly interest cost would be zero.

Real reform

This is real reform.

It’s the only plan that allows you to be free of political control over your retirement.

It’s the only way that you, your parents, grandparents, children and grandchildren will finally be secure.

It’s the only way we’ll eliminate the terrible forest fires and most of the devastating pollution that ravages America.

And it’s the only solution to the problems of Social Security and the environment that’s consistent with a free country.

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