America Is For Sale

Government agencies are auctioning off anything they can find to fill holes in budgets

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Everybody knows that U.S. debt is scary big and getting bigger by the minute. (In case you didn't know that, just have a look at this website. It updates U.S. debt numbers of all kinds in realtime, and it is not encouraging.) On the state level over the past year, we've seen workers occupy the state capitol in Wisconsin, Mark Zuckerberg bail out entire city school systems in New Jersey and as of today, 25 percent of the state parks in California shut their gates. With no rock bottom in sight both state and federal officials are flailing as they fall deeper and deeper in debt. What can the government do? What sort of parachute cord can they pull? The one that sounds the auction bell, of course.

You've always been able to buy things from the government like impounded property, retired official vehicles and unused buildings. Lately, however, state and local governments have been forced to get creative with ways to raise money. Here are some of the weirder ideas:

  • Buy a power plant--No public approval needed! Wisconsin is budget crisis central, and in the process of negotiating next year's bill, Scott Walker and company wanted to permit politicians to sell any state-owned power plant at will. The earmark did not make it into the final bill.
  • Symphony Hall available--Architectural significance included. The budget woes of Newark, N.J. became famous last fall when the world's youngest billionaire made his first big philanthropic gesture, donating $100 million to the city's school system. By the end of the year, however, Mayor Cory Booker was still in such a tight spot that he sold off 16 city buildings, including the landmarks like the police and fire headquarters and the beloved Symphony Hall.
  • To bid on vintage planes, please visit Kentucky Governor Scott Beshear bragged to the press last month about how with it the state had become in its quest for more revenue. He'd just brought in over a quarter of a million dollars selling a handsome 1975 Piper Navajo and a 1967 Cessna Skyhawk using the same site favored by Beanie Baby fanatics.
  • "Pothole repair brought to you by Kentucky Fried Chicken." Naperville, a small town just west of Chicago, is mulling over the idea to allow corporations to sponsor government property and programs. The measure has not yet passed, but imagine the possibilities.
  • Moldy dorms perfect for romantic getaway and/or history buffs. A set of dormitories in the Daniel Boone National Forest may fetch a price for their place in the American century. The cabins once sheltered workers of the Civilian Conservation Corps and have likely not been touched since. They could yours for a song because like many properties currently for sale they "have little or no market value," says one government official. 

But wait, there's more. The federal government actually maintains a number of portals for pretty much anything you could ever wants. The product list is long and runs from aircraft parts to x-ray equipment with some heavy machinery and scrap metal in between. The motto at Uncle Sam's Retail Outlet (actual name): "Buy one. Buy many. Save on plenty." And on top of it all, your money's going to a good cause.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.