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My wife and I have thought of this as a retirement strategy.

The life of a work-camper, volunteering in places like Falcon State Park in deep South Texas in return for free rent, is not without its bumps. But as Ms. Smith also quickly discovered, the rewards can be deep as well — like making cinnamon rolls as part of her job at the camp recreation center, where she and Mr. Smith are working as hosts through the end of March.

An itinerant, footloose army of available and willing retirees in their 60s and 70s is marching through the American outback, looking to stretch retirement dollars by volunteering to work in parks, campgrounds and wildlife sanctuaries, usually in exchange for camping space.

And hey, why not. Why do I need to be in one place when I don’t expect to see a penny of my social security. And given the ridiculous sums being taken from me already, I won’t have enough to save for a more lavish retirement given the work-leisure tradeoffs I have made so far in my life. And if Obama and the states keep spending us into oblivion for the next 35 years, there should be plenty of places for my wife and I to work:

Park and wildlife agencies say that retired volunteers have in turn become all the more crucial as budget cuts and new demands have made it harder to keep parks open.

But I thought government spending on public works creates economic activity? I thought taking tax dollars from me, and using it to employ people in parks has multiplier effects that create prosperity? If so, then how could park budgets be in trouble? How come state governments are slashing spending there?

But here is a strange thing:

“We did a state park in Arizona this year that had laid off so many people, we basically ran it,” said Carolyn Miller, 71, a former small-business owner from Colorado who has work-camped from Alaska to Maine with her husband, Warren, 73.

So state governments either close down parks, or allow some nomad retirees to work the areas for free. But when private recreational management companies put bids on the park that propose to run them not only for free, but to share in the potential profits that they suspect they can make by running the parks more efficiently than governments, the proposals are flatout rejected? See here for the story.

But go back to the original idea. I’ll quote Coyote:

I find it kind of fascinating that the NY Times thinks it’s a wonderful innovation that “cash-strapped state governments” help balance the budget on the backs of free labor from older people.  Can you imagine what the headlines would be if all the facts were changed, but the entity was a manufacturing company rather than a state park?  It would have been torches and pitchforks  (it is illegal except in narrow cases for private companies to accept free labor — the government of course exempts itself from this requirement, as it does from much of labor law).

Yes, imagine indeed that GM was unable to run a profit by paying people or by selling a product people wanted. Patriotic Americans then offer to work at GM for free just to keep the company afloat – and perhaps in exchange they get a nice warm factory floor to work on during those cold winter months. Instead, the taxpayers get to make sure GM employees get paid hefty wage and benefits packages.

But how could the government stand for this in “our” parks? Is it not the case that all of these old volunteers are doing jobs that are more rightfully done by union workers?

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