Worth £1,000 a year to us all apparently

Over the weekend we had a charity which supports the idea of public parks telling us that public parks have a value to people. That seems pretty uncontroversial of course, to the point of certainly being true. The question will only ever be, well, what value?

They tell us one large each:

Parks and green spaces generate health benefits that would cost more than £34bn if they did not exist, research by Fields in Trust has suggested.

The charity, which protects green spaces, also found that parks save the NHS about £111m a year.

The report coincides with the launch of a five-year plan to protect parks.

Green spaces can improve overall health for all, including “the young, isolated and the vulnerable”, said parks and green spaces minister Rishi Sunak.

In the report, Revaluing Parks and Green Spaces, it is calculated that people would need to spend £974 each year to achieve the same level of life satisfaction they get from parks if they were not there.

Note that’s not one grand per park – which would be a negative value once opportunity costs are taken into account – but one grand each person. Per year.

Hmmm, well, a charity which campaigns for public parks isn’t going to aim on the low side of the actual number now, are they?

But this does mean that we’re richer than we commonly assume. GDP is, as we know, the value of all production – or income, or consumption – at market prices. Where there’s no market price we don’t count it. But this does mean that GDP is only a proxy for what we’re actually interested in – how rich are the peeps?

Depending upon how you measure it GDP per capita is some £20,000 to £30,000 for the UK. Add a grand to that for the parks and that’s a 5% increase, isn’t it? Well, to one of the numbers. We’re 5% richer – not in GDP, but in the thing we want to really measure. And there’s rather a lot of this sort of thing around, it’s not just parks that do this.

So, we’re richer than we all thought we were, hurrah. But that also means that all derived statistics are wrong. Productivity for example. The costs of producing those parks are inside our current GDP figures. The output, the consumption, not, so, that makes our productivity look worse.

And then there’s inequality. We all get to enjoy exactly equal amounts of these parks on the basis of our income. So, we’re adding £1,000 a year to the income of the thieving banker and also £1,000 to the income of the thieving chav. Actually, the chav probably gets the greater value, the banker already having a garden it takes more than 30 seconds to walk around.

Inequality is lower than we thought too.

Interesting what you can prove if only you understand what the numbers are trying to tell you, isn’t it?

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  1. If public parks have a value, then not having public parks, like not having other government services, or using any parcel to build anything that is not a public park, must have a “social cost” and we must drop what we’re doing and decide who is to pay the “cost,” right?

    That a nation having pleasant parkland accrues £111m less health-care costs than a nation being one big noisy factory is a false choice. What if parkland is unpatrolled and becomes the stalking grounds for chav assaults? Still healthier?

    As Dr. Sowell wrote about pensions: This “property” is not yours if you are unable to dispose of it.

  2. Wouldn’t the marginal utility of money suggest that the Chav, on a low income, would derive far greater value from the £1k than the wanker? If true then inequality is a lot lower don’t you think…

    Which could be justification to take even more from the haves of course. They won’t miss it much.

  3. Man there are some grumps on here!

    Parks are nice. I like parks. Having lived in cities without them, I know I would actually pay more to live in a city with them. I can find them enjoyable even when I don’t own them. They add value to my life.

    I’m not sure that I don’t own my home town’s parks anyway. Sure it’s in collective rather than individual ownership but that’s how we all get one big park not 1 square metre of useless park. Saying you don’t own something unless you can dispose of it is only one way of looking at ownership. The other way is you only own something if you can use it without charge. (Also, should the city sell it my rates would go down as a result. It has a monetary value to me. Collectively, via council elections, I can dispose of it.)

    And where you live decided whether the park needs security. My home has a lovely park with gardens enjoyed by many. And not a security person anywhere. I wouldn’t wander through it late at night, but it’s a park — using it late at night is stupid.

    • And, sadly, the board also has some posters who start with personal attacks.

      The apex of this line of thought is the real-estate agent who touts a town’s schools as a selling point in choosing a home, as though it were worth money to live in a place where they seize more of your earnings and do for you what you could do better for yourself. Alas, there are enough virtue-signallers in the market, who want an address that suggests enlightenment without having to evidence any.

      So you think you “own” your town’s parks, in one way of looking at it, even though it would be stupid to go there at night – that, if government takes your money and spends it with your approval, the money remains yours. No, individual ownership does not imply 1 square meter per person. Mine is 1.8 acres, and over a couple decades has gone from jungle to open fields covered by a few large trees. I made it what I wanted it to be, and I can walk it at midnight, or at noon without the din of a Speaker’s Corner. There is an industrial site with junkyard next door, and that is someone else doing what he wants. My town has gathering places but no real parks. If it had, it would have rendered me less able to do what I did, just as every dollar in a government “rainy-day fund” costs one dollar that we would have set aside for a rainy day, and just as you can do no more than beg to your council for lower rates, and you will lose. Big government is not something you own, in any sense; it is something that owns you.