A Calculus of Efficiency for Public Goods: The Case of Public Outdoor Recreation

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The characteristics of public outdoor recreation as a public good are ascertained. A cost-benefit analysis is applied which ensures efficiency, while allowing for the pecuniary and technological externalities that exist in the development of outdoor recreation resorts. A total willingness to pay technique is utilized to approximate the consumer's valuation of benefits from recreation. Essential to the technique is the derivation of total willingness to pay curve which parallels the demand curve for private goods. Total willingness to pay is used instead of consumer's surplus, because the latter is associated with a market price which is not determined for public outdoor recreation. Since the total willingness to pay curve is a function of income distribution, once derived, the curve can be adjusted to rid the analysis of income distribution bias. The adjustment helps achieve equity in the allocation of recreational resorts. Fort Frederick State Park provided a case of application for the technique. A sample survey conducted in the Fort was the basis for the derivation of a total willingness to pay curve. The curve shows the relation between expenditures incurred, in time and money, to visits at Fort Frederick. The rates of growth for expenditures, income and population were the basis for the simulation of the total willingness to pay up to the year 2000. Integration of the areas under the simulated demand curves was an approximation of the future willingness to pay or benefits derived from recreational experience at the Fort. After dividing the discounted value of benefits by the estimated costs of developing the Fort, a benefit-cost ratio was obtained, which was a quantitative endorsement in favor of the development of Fort Frederick.