Oftentimes, I think you can shed some light on important public policy issues by looking at issues that aren’t at all important. For example, instead of thinking about the skyrocketing cost of college, consider the skyrocketing cost of summer camp:
When Mickey Black’s grandfather, Hughie, opened Pine Forest in 1931, a two-month summer session here cost $85, about $1,264 in today’s dollars. The Black family’s camp survived the Great Depression and World War II, polio scares and hurricanes, Vietnam and Woodstock, its own Great Dining Hall Fire of 1984, 9/11 and now the Great Recession.
But in an age of hyperparenting, Facebook and Twitter, texting and sexting, running a traditional camp is far more complicated and expensive than it used to be. This year, a seven-week session at Pine Forest costs $9,700, a big-ticket price for a rustic canoe-and-campfire experience. (Some camps charge even more.)
That’s a 767% real increase in the price and for what appears to be a reduced level of service. A “two month” session should contain about 61 days of camping. A “seven week” session is only 49 days, so you’re only getting about 80 percent as much camp as you used to get. Whatever you think of this, it surely doesn’t reflect the perverse consequences of government subsidies. Rather, over time attention has become increasingly expensive to provide. And people value it.