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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/9793/new-ideas-for-roads/

New Ideas for Roads

April 15, 2009 by

Walter Block’s remarkable new treatise on private roads is a 494-page book that will cause you to rethink the whole of the way modern transportation networks operate. It is bold, innovative, radical, compelling, and shows how free-market economic theory is the clarifying lens through which to see the failures of the state and to see the alternative that is consistent with human liberty. FULL ARTICLE

{ 50 comments }

Jonathan April 15, 2009 at 8:34 am

You libertarians want the best roads for the richs and the bad ones for the poors.

Just kidding.

Carl Menger April 15, 2009 at 9:37 am

Yes?

Matthew Houseward April 15, 2009 at 9:49 am

Not that the market couldn’t figure out how to privatize our present road system, but we should keep in mind that the DOT may very well have created a system that is simply not economically sustainable (it might cost more than it’s worth no matter who manages it). We may find that private ownership reveals the true cost of highway construction and maintenance, which may force residents and businesses to move closer to city centers in order to take advantage of public transportation options.

This would be viewed (incorrectly) as a market failure because the market was unable to privatize a government creation without radically changing it. The reality might be that denser urban centers are more economically sustainable, whereas sprawling suburbs require government intrusion.

My point is that in addition to considering how the free market would run our present system, we should also consider what alternative systems the free market might have created.

Black Bloke April 15, 2009 at 9:56 am

So what is his plan for privatization? Have the government sell the highways to some large well connected corporation?

I can see that he’s done well on the “Why?” question, but I haven’t seen much on the “How?” question.

Andy April 15, 2009 at 10:11 am

Matthew Houseward –

Excellent points. I’ve thought along similar lines. Could it be that the number of cars on the road is a function of government intrusion into the market ala public roads? Could world fuel consumption and prices be distorted due to the existence of public roads? I’m looking forward to reading Dr. Block’s book to see how he addresses these issues.

AJ

Mike April 15, 2009 at 10:32 am

The concept of having “free enterprise” in control of the nation’s roadways is frightening. So called “free enterprise” is responsible for the economic collapse most of us are currently enjoying. People with ideas like this flitter around from pile to pile like flies around you know what.

Ron April 15, 2009 at 11:05 am

Mike,

Why is it frightening (to you) to have free, profit-seeking groups of individuals in charge of roadways, while it’s not frightening to have bureaucratic, power-seeking groups of individuals in charge of the same? To make a profit, roads would have to be safe and efficient. To gain more power, government need only fail at whatever it does…whereby it is granted even more power (and tax money) in the name of “doing something”.

Also, if you think voters are smart enough to elect good politicians, or to throw out bad ones, why is it that you don’t think they’re smart enough to stay away from unsafe roadways?

fundamentalist April 15, 2009 at 11:08 am

The issue is not too different from lighthouses. Economists have insisted that lighthouses were a public good and required state ownership. Ronald Coase proved them wrong in a famous article, “The Lighthouse in Economics.” “The Lighthouse as a Private-Sector Collective Good” at the Independent Institute, idependent.org/publications/working_papers/article.asp?id=757, updates Coase’s arguments. Similar arguments could be applied to roads.

Anyone who thinks the state does a good job should look around them at all of the roads and bridges to nowhere. The state builds far more roads than the country needs and builds them in the wrong places, while failing to build roads that are needed. In other words, the state wastes enormous amounts of wealth. It does so because the only incentive politicians care about is pleasing campaign contributors. Wasting taxpayer money clearly means nothing at all to politicians. Had the state not wasted so much money on needless roads, more efficient travel by railroads would have survived.

Using the lighthouse example, a simple way to privatize roads might be to collect an annual user fee from vehicle owners based on weight and miles traveled. The fee would go into a fund. Highway owners would measure traffic on their roads and the money would be divided by volume and type of traffic.

Sakurai April 15, 2009 at 11:22 am

Mike said: The concept of having “free enterprise” in control of the nation’s roadways is frightening. So called “free enterprise” is responsible for the economic collapse most of us are currently enjoying. People with ideas like this flitter around from pile to pile like flies around you know what.

Mike, I would respectfully ask you educate yourself on what happened. It was government control that caused it though many market interventions, the largest being the Federal Reserve.

Money, something all of us use everyday, was distorted by Fed actions. By increasing the overall supply of money in circulation and lowering interest rates lower than what the market would have set them, the created an artificial boom. These booms, since they are not natural market occurrences, will always end in busts. The current collapse is government created and will only be solved by the market working it out. Unfortunately, the market is being hampered more and more by increasing interventions and larger bailouts.

Keep in mind, that current mainstream economic theory did not predict this, however, people that subscribed to what is called Austrian Capital Theory and Austrian Business Cycle Theory, (people that post on this site) saw what was coming. Resources (books, articles, mp3s) on this site as well as other sites explain very clearly the current situation.

In regards to private highways. Japan and China have them and they work perfectly fine. Private roads used to be perfectly normal in the US, so much so that many states in the late 1700′s and early 1800′s had constitutional amendments barring the use of public funds for roads, canals, railroads, etc, but certain interests pushed for public roads and the like. It became more pronounced as time passed. For example, auto corporations, most notably Ford, in the early part of the 20th century, pushed for public roads. They knew they would sell more cars that way. Why bother letting capitalism work when you can use the government to influence your sales positively?

Based on track records, I would rather a private company construct and administer roads, not any government agency. Take the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, is there any question that government planning, construction and administration was horrifically bad and responsible for the many deaths that occurred? Or what about the bridge collapse in Minnesota? Or the constant forest mismanagement leading to brushfires in California? If a private company did any of that, they would not only lose all their customers and investors, they would be totally destroyed by lawsuits. I think a private system would be safer and more efficient.

Sakurai April 15, 2009 at 11:27 am

Mike said: The concept of having “free enterprise” in control of the nation’s roadways is frightening. So called “free enterprise” is responsible for the economic collapse most of us are currently enjoying. People with ideas like this flitter around from pile to pile like flies around you know what.

Mike, I would respectfully ask you educate yourself on what happened. It was government control that caused it though many market interventions, the largest being the Federal Reserve.

Money, something all of us use everyday, was distorted by Fed actions. By increasing the overall supply of money in circulation and lowering interest rates lower than what the market would have set them, the created an artificial boom. These booms, since they are not natural market occurrences, will always end in busts. The current collapse is government created and will only be solved by the market working it out. Unfortunately, the market is being hampered more and more by increasing interventions and larger bailouts.

Keep in mind, that current mainstream economic theory did not predict this, however, people that subscribed to what is called Austrian Capital Theory and Austrian Business Cycle Theory, (people that post on this site) saw what was coming. Resources (books, articles, mp3s) on this site as well as other sites explain very clearly the current situation.

In regards to private highways. Japan and China have them and they work perfectly fine. Private roads used to be perfectly normal in the US, so much so that many states in the late 1700′s and early 1800′s had constitutional amendments barring the use of public funds for roads, canals, railroads, etc, but certain interests pushed for public roads and the like. It became more pronounced as time passed. For example, auto corporations, most notably Ford, in the early part of the 20th century, pushed for public roads. They knew they would sell more cars that way. Why bother letting capitalism work when you can use the government to influence your sales positively?

Based on track records, I would rather a private company construct and administer roads, not any government agency. Take the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, is there any question that government planning, construction and administration was horrifically bad and responsible for the many deaths that occurred? Or what about the bridge collapse in Minnesota? Or the constant forest mismanagement leading to brushfires in California? If a private company did any of that, they would not only lose all their customers and investors, they would be totally destroyed by lawsuits. I think a private system would be safer and more efficient.

Michael A. Clem April 15, 2009 at 11:48 am

Good points, Matthew and Andy. Since governments control the roads, they don’t have the economic feedback they need to know what the best and most efficient use of roadways would be–in short, they can’t calculate, as Mises said. Environmentalists should be all for privatization of roads, and all transit, for that matter, so that the true cost of transportation becomes knowable. Only then can we find out how efficient the alternatives are: scooters, bikes, passenger rail, etc.
Another consideration is that suburban sprawl might not have happened, or at least might not have happened so quickly, without the government roads. Socializing the cost of roads has subsidized those who use the roads more at the cost of those who use (or would use) the roads less.
These are the kinds of things that should frighten Mike more than free enterprise of the roadways, but of course, most people are used to the disaster that is the current status quo, and have a hard time imagining how it could be different, much less better.

filc April 15, 2009 at 12:07 pm

Mike I assume this is your first time on the mises.org site. Such statements at large make you look terribly un-read. Like a pawn fresh out of NPR/CBS/FOX’s oven. My advise to you is to stop watching the crap you hear on TV. Certainly don’t believe it and start reading. You can begin with economics in one lesson.

Economics in One Lesson

This site is a much larger intellectual refutation of what I am going to assume you believe in. State managed resources. The idea that there is some magical Gene inside the state that knows where and when resources are to be allocated. An individual who blames the free-market for it’s supposed failure but cannot factually pin point the exact reason for its demise or it’s flaw. As for today’s financial collapse and can find no empirical evidence to support your argument so as to resort to petty name calling. True, you may find lots of statistical evidence which at a glance may appear to support your argument but a deeper look only proves that the evidence was only symptoms of a deeper issue wrought by the price control of credit.

John Galt once called you a moral Canvas, and to say the least he is correct. We like you are liberals, accept that we are original classic liberals. You are a modern liberal who has no consistent moral premise in which to base your arguments. You swing from one philosophical belief extremity to the of another depending on the topic. Your views are easily manipulated by the rally of other modern liberals and modern propaganda such as Television. You claim to be against theft but support theft of the state and cannot see the conflict therein. You drive a car, you probably love your car. You own a computer. Iphone? Ipod? Ski’s? Notebook? Pencil? You relish and bask in the produce of free men. Yet behind their backs scold them for their creativity and success. You are jealous because you want all of these things but do not wish to participate in the production process. You have no desire to produce something of your own, only to take that which you believe is entitled to you. The private property of another man.

It’s a wonder to me how modern liberalism could dwell with such a following as it does. Sadly it can only be a strong representation of how lost our great society truly is. If you have no consistent underlying moral premise, then arguing with you is like arguing with the wind. Your position will change at on a whim, suddenly and radically. Such men have no integrity. They have no inner foundation in which to derive their life from. Their thoughts, idea’s, and beliefs are given to them from others. They are told what to believe, and believe it. They are the straight A student who never questioned his teacher or stopped to ask why.

I would pitty you.

whitebear April 15, 2009 at 12:14 pm

There are organic apples and apples available in the supermarket. The organics goes for $1/lb while the regular sells for $0.40/lb. Do you say “You want the best apples for the rich and the bad ones for the poor”?

There are McDonalds and “Fine Dining steak house”. Do you say “You want the best meat for the rich and the bad ones for the poor”?

Trust me, having living in Canada for more than 15 years after emmigrating from HK, I am consistently bombarded with arguments such as the first comment made by Jonathan. This strikes me a lot when I started high school
“You want private healthcare in Canada? You only want the rich to afford it?”

The fact that a pretty much settled issue – minimum wage among almost all economists could cause such a stir http://blog.mises.org/archives/009257.asp#comments
reminds me what an uphill battle free-market thinkers is facing going forward. Unlike other ideaologies such as communism, facism (mercantilism being another form), socialism, free-market thinkers can only resort to reason and persuasion instead of coersion when it comes to influencing the majority.

dean April 15, 2009 at 12:28 pm

I will definitely be buying this

….after the Mises Store releases a Mises lanyard.

OK, I can’t wait that long to get my hands on this book (Dr. Block could write about paint drying and be fascinating), but can we get some push behind a Mises lanyard?

Inquisitor April 15, 2009 at 1:04 pm

The concept of having “free enterprise” in control of the nation’s roadways is frightening. So called “free enterprise” is responsible for the economic collapse most of us are currently enjoying. People with ideas like this flitter around from pile to pile like flies around you know what.”

Please, please grow up. You’ve obviously not read much of the material of this site. Do so, and then comment. If you have I can only wonder what sort of powers of comprehension you have…

Magnus April 15, 2009 at 2:25 pm

the DOT may very well have created a system that is simply not economically sustainable (it might cost more than it’s worth no matter who manages it).

I would submit that it is absolutely 100% guaranteed that, because the State has been in charge of all aspects of roads for a couple hundred years, the costs of our current road system outweigh the benefits.

It could not be otherwise. As Mr. Clem mentioned, the State can’t calculate. It has therefore been totally blind in the way it has made every one of its millions upon millions of economic decisions about roads, day after day, over the last two centuries.

Since the State lacks the capacity for economic calculation, every choice by the State about roads — their location, type, size, materials, employees, contractors — including the amount to pay for them, has been made without the benefit of economic feedback.

The State only has only one decision-making criterion — political feedback. As a result, every government agency makes its decisions based on the political convenience of the members of the State. This is why State expenditures and waste invariably rise until they reaches the limit imposed by the threat of political embarassment.

Imagine trying to write a novel using a keyboard with randomly-arranged keys while wearing a blindfold. Is is possible that such a writer could produce something worth reading? No, not really.

fundamentalist April 15, 2009 at 2:58 pm

An even simpler way to fund private highways would be for the private owners of the highways to contract with gas stations to collect a user fee per gallon. Then distribute the pool of funds to the highway owners based on traffic.

Matt R. April 15, 2009 at 3:08 pm

Pardon my ignorance, but where does the government’s involvement in the roads stem from? Eisenhower’s highway system? It seems like the government is expected now to fix every bridge and pothole as well. I don’t get it.

Alexander S. Peak April 15, 2009 at 3:12 pm

Mr. Tucker writes, “And then there’s road construction, which the government decides to undertake whenever and wherever it so desires, reducing a three-lane road to a one-lane road in the name of expanding it to a five-lane road but taking as long as a full year to do it and generating hazards along the way.”

Only a year?

A year and a half ago, I had to put up with construction everywhere I went. Construction on my state-”owned” university (which is still going on), construction on my typical belt-way route to and fro the Baltimore Travel Plaza (some of which is still going on), repaving on my own street, and reconstruction (and re-reconstruction and re-re-reconstruction) on the road from my university to my home. The repaving on my street is finished, and new speed-bumps have been added, but the pot-holes and other bumps are still there. The university is on a ten-year reconstruction plan, which I anticipate will take at least fifteen when all is said and done.

A friend from New Jersey recently told me of her troubles with the DMV. Not only did she need an excessive amount of indentification, but she arrived early to find that their computers were down. They told her it might take two hours, but that was a guess. She had to get to work and worried that the whole morning might be wasted, not that a state-run monopoly like the DMV would have any reason to care.

To Black Bloke,

Tucker writes, “He is particularly tough on those who have advocated public-private partnership in the name of privatization or toll-based solutions for congestion that do nothing about the core problem of who owns the roads in the first place.”

I would assume therefore that what Block advocates in the book is something similar to what I assume you and I both advocate: ownership being surrendered to those who have used the roads, in accordance with the homesteading principle.

Having not read Block’s treatise myself, I’ll have to confine myself to stating simply for the readers my perspective, which I believe you probably share.

I hold that the streets used for residency be surrendered to the people who live in the homes along said streets. In other words, if you like on Smith Road, you would be surrendered a share of ownership of Smith Road, along with the other residence of Smith Road. All Smith Road residents would be given an equal share of Smith Road, or a share based on the amount of property owned that borders Smith Road.

As for highways, they would have to be surrendered in equal share to everyone in the county or state.

From there, people could sell their shares, give away their shares, hold onto their shares, or whatever else.

If it turns out that this (or something similar) is not what Dr. Block advocates, I suspect I may be disappointed by his treatise. But, as I see no reason why he wouldn’t advocate this, I look forward to someday tackling this book, along with its beautiful front cover.

To Mike,

You write, “The concept of having ‘free enterprise’ in control of the nation’s roadways is frightening. So called ‘free enterprise’ is responsible for the economic collapse most of us are currently enjoying.”

You have a strange definition for “free enterprise.” Most of us just call it The State, and call something completely different by the name “free enterprise.”

Anywho…

To the LvMI,

I do hope that Dr. Block will record an online audiobook for us in his spare time.

Cheers,
Alex Peak

greg April 15, 2009 at 3:58 pm

Scanner units? this is going to be very expensive to install and maintain. A simple solution is a GPS system that can record the exact distance you travel on any road.

But the problem is not so much private or public roads, it is there are too many drivers on the road! The solution to sitting in traffic is to get the drivers off the road. And private industry can solve this problem by allowing workers to telecommute, go to 4 10 hour work week, adjust office hours, provide mass transit services for their employees and many other solutions are available.

Not only getting people off the roads would cut down on commute times, it will go a long way to reduce oil and gas usage.

Allowing private companies to build roads to meet demand at present driving volume would greatly expand the road system. More asphalt covering the ground would increase the harmful effects of water runoff, local flooding and pollution. There is a percentage of coverage that is OK for the environment, but I guess your author is not a civil engineer.

Again, it should be the market’s solution to get cars off the road and start with all those mothers that drive their kid to school in those huge SUV’s!

whittaker April 15, 2009 at 4:54 pm

What bothers me is not so much getting tickets, but people who do worse things than speeding (tailgating, aggressive driving) NOT getting tickets.

The enforcement of traffic laws is VERY spotty. I assume that this is because CONSISTENT enforcement would be cost prohibitive. But I have no doubt that creative approaches by the private sector would clear up most of the problem.

Sovy Kurosei April 15, 2009 at 6:12 pm

The amount of people on this site who have faith, not reasons, in believing the free market will clear all wrongs that the state has committed with regards to road management is disturbing.

Does Professor Block’s have substance, facts and evidence in his book to support privatization of roads or is it just pages of theories of what ought to happen with privatized roads with a few anecdotal examples thrown in?

Baron April 15, 2009 at 6:34 pm

I’m really interested to see if the book discusses the effect of government roads on development patterns, ie suburban sprawl.

I’ve read some New Urbanist books about sprawl, and it’s really fascinating. Granted, they are not approaching from a free market perspective, but the history of how we came to this is fascinating. For one thing, you will notice a difference in the way post WWII development looks, that’s because of government regulations. Stores have to be way back from the road, allegedly for safety (it hasn’t worked–people speed up). Trees are not allowed along streets for the same reason. Regulations on parking lot minimums have caused us to waste land on oversize lots which sit empty most of the time. Mixed-use multi-story construction (apartments or office space above shopping–look at towns built before WW2) is banned nearly everywhere. Property taxes punish those who build beautiful buildings, because they are worth more. BIllboards go up, because people can’t see the stores far from the road as they are speeding by.

But maybe the biggest issue of all is “free” government roads. Even if it were legal to build using the classical town forms (apartments above shopping), there is no incentive to build like this with free roads. Developers naturally prefer to mass-produce once type of building. They can build a million houses here, a giant office complex there, a huge strip center a mile away, etc. with no thoughts given towards driving distance. There is no need to put things closer together, because government will patch up the mess they created with ever-expanding freeways. With classical town patterns, busses/trains/walking are viable. With sprawl, only cars are really suitable.

If people had to pay a sizeable toll every time they got on the road, pretty soon they would be shopping for a neighborhood with at least some integrated shopping and so forth at the center. And don’t make the mistake of looking at your local toll road and thinking “oh, it’s just a couple bucks, that doesn’t change much”. Your local toll road was probably built with eminent domain and the tolls are probably regulated.

Once bad building codes are abolished and roads are truly private, there will be an incentive to conserve road space. Tolls will get people into (private) mass transit, and busses/taxis will be viable now that they aren’t stuck in traffic. Stores will build closer to the roads to attract customers waiting for the buses and trolleys and so forth, and to capture the increased pedestrian traffic. They will build apartments on top to keep customer traffic nearby, to offset the loss of parking spaces. Ugly billboards are no longer needed so much, since more people are walking by instead of driving. Tree-lined roads will become common again, since it benefits pedestrians and has a passive effect on slowing traffic (so does narrower roads).

I don’t think that sprawl would go away entirely. Car-centric development is appropriate for rural areas, to some extent. And I don’t think Wal-Mart would die, their stores would simply adapt to a different physical form that is better suited to conserving road space.

I’m just guessing of course. I think probably freeways would be paid for via electronic tags like toll roads already have. Converting existing freeways would be relatively easy. For city streets, you probably wouldn’t have electronic gates at every intersection; you would pay a flat fee to enter a certain area. In both cases you’d pay a premium during rush hour and daylight hours, and crowded areas would see higher tolls than rural areas. Or maybe color-coded license plates that you pre-pay. Or businesses and neighborhoods would pay the road company a monthly fee to keep their parking entrance unblocked, who knows.

Jaycephus April 15, 2009 at 7:14 pm

Sovy Kurosei:
“The amount of people on this site who have faith, not reasons, in believing the free market will clear all wrongs that the state has committed with regards to road management is disturbing.”

I don’t know about you, but I find it far more distrubing that Sovy has somehow evolved the ability to read our minds and KNOW that we all use pure faith and not reason. I mean, he’s even been able to read our minds and KNOW that we REALLY think something is true that NONE of has ever said out loud! Now that’s scary.

Well, I assume, now that its out in the open, we can all just admit that we think the free-market is incapable of making any mistakes, and stop hiding behind the statement that the free-market is best at finding the better of all possible imperfect solutions for a given problem at a given point in time in an imperfect world, given limit resources.

Andy April 15, 2009 at 7:58 pm

Baron — Excellent post.

Free Market Phooey April 15, 2009 at 8:09 pm

There are many problems with govt control of the road system, but is there a practical alternative? I’m not going to buy an expensive book from Block without some evidence that he knows a practical alternative. One problem with roads is that charges are not done in a user-pays fashion. Govt could fix this by more closely monitoring traffic and charging tolls based upon time-of-day and congestion. I suspect this one idea alone would be superior to Block’s “free market” solution. Still if he wants to milk the faithful of a few dollars, good on him.

George Thomas Kysor April 15, 2009 at 8:32 pm

PR&H was published in hardcover three years ago. You can read if for free online at
http://mises.org/books/roads_web.pdf

Sovy Kurosei April 15, 2009 at 8:45 pm

Jaycephus

I don’t know about you, but I find it far more distrubing that Sovy has somehow evolved the ability to read our minds and KNOW that we all use pure faith and not reason. I mean, he’s even been able to read our minds and KNOW that we REALLY think something is true that NONE of has ever said out loud! Now that’s scary.

Well, I assume, now that its out in the open, we can all just admit that we think the free-market is incapable of making any mistakes, and stop hiding behind the statement that the free-market is best at finding the better of all possible imperfect solutions for a given problem at a given point in time in an imperfect world, given limit resources.

I didn’t say that.

Jim Fedako April 15, 2009 at 9:31 pm

Jeffrey,

I am not someone who envisions a free market utopia — a world where there are no lines or other forms irritation. One only has to go to the local amusement park to see firsthand that the free market does not eliminate waiting.

There are those who think that all free market roads would miraculously be free of snow, regardless the storm. It may be the case that the consumer, when faced with all alternatives, chooses lines and snow over higher fees.

Of course, multiple roads could exist that provide for different wants at different fees. But the main point is this: Under a free market, I would not be coerced into paying for services that I do not desire to use, and I will not be overcharged for inefficient services (at least not for long).

I may grumble in the lines at Disneyland, but it will be by choice.

Free Market Phooey April 15, 2009 at 9:39 pm

Potential readers of Block’s book might be interested to know that “The Privatization of Roads and Highways” by Walter Block is available in PDF at http://mises.org/books/roads_web.pdf
Thanks for pointing that out. I have just read 20% of this PDF and have found it to be the most sensible thing I have ever read about the road system. The way Block debunks many popular notions about the road system, problems and solutions, is brilliant.

Conza88 April 15, 2009 at 11:19 pm

There are several typos in the pdf. Someone should probably fix up..

Chp 5, Chp 19…

No biggie though..

Inquisitor April 15, 2009 at 11:59 pm

“Govt could fix this by more closely monitoring traffic and charging tolls based upon time-of-day and congestion. I suspect this one idea alone would be superior to Block’s “free market” solution”

Prove it.

Inquisitor April 16, 2009 at 12:01 am

“I didn’t say that.”

Yes, you did. Why don’t you actually buy and read the book and evaluate it rather than pulling assertions out of your ass about why others support free markets?

Morbo April 16, 2009 at 12:17 am

Good article.

But the air ticket example is incorrect. You say the first ticket ($300) plus the second ticket ($350) means the road congestion cost you $750.

It only cost you $350, you would have had to spend $300 on the original ticket anyway.

Sovy Kurosei April 16, 2009 at 12:35 am

Inquisitor

Yes, you did. Why don’t you actually buy and read the book and evaluate it rather than pulling assertions out of your ass about why others support free markets?

My comment wasn’t directed against professor Block. I did buy his book though.

Warren April 16, 2009 at 12:45 am

I’ve already ordered it, it should be here tomorrow.

Of course, ironically, it is coming via gov mail on gov roads so I hope it arrives in one piece.

This is one of the great sticking points for us free-market sorts when talking to the others. Through no fault of their own it is nearly impossible to imagine a totally private roads system.

I know it can work and I have trouble with what it would look like.

Even if we had a free society and the roads still sucked or got worse, that would be preferable to what we have now.

What would hilarious would be making the changeover with all the agony and caterwauling that would entail just to have flying cars become widespread and make the issue mostly moot.

Inquisitor April 16, 2009 at 1:30 am

“My comment wasn’t directed against professor Block. I did buy his book though.”

No, rather you insinuated support for the market is a matter of faith. I’d have to say it’s support for the state that is faith-based…

Sovy Kurosei April 16, 2009 at 2:17 am

Inquisitor

No, rather you insinuated support for the market is a matter of faith.

I didn’t say that support for the market is a matter of faith. There are some people who do support free markets on faith alone though.

newson April 16, 2009 at 3:37 am

in plenty of countries south of the border, state roads have plenty of informal “tolls”, police stops that can be involve useless delay unless money passes hands. better a bona fide toll than a squalid shake-down. at least the pot-holes would be fixed.

locals add to road safety by erecting shrines where loved ones have died. plenty of crosses say “go slow” more effectively than any road sign, and at no cost to the traveling public.

as others have said, maximizing absolute road quality is not the goal; hitler built great autobahns.

Magnus April 16, 2009 at 6:10 am

I didn’t say that support for the market is a matter of faith. There are some people who do support free markets on faith alone though.

Really? Who, exactly?

Prove your assertion, or withdraw it.

Enjoy Every Sandwich April 16, 2009 at 7:39 am

“The amount of people on this site who have faith, not reasons, in believing the free market will clear all wrongs that the state has committed with regards to road management is disturbing.”

Sovy, I won’t pretend to know what exactly you mean by that, although I can understand why many posters have reacted the way they did. It definitely can be interpreted as saying that those who believe in the free market do so as a matter of faith, not reason.

It may be that I’m just cynical and crabby but I take something different from your sentence (again, probably not what you meant to say): the State has so thoroughly messed up the transportation infrastructure that I don’t know if anything can straighten it out. Where I live pretty much everything has been built in response to the State’s distortions and I’m just not sure how we can get from where we are now to something that actually makes sense.

I will say that the free market offers the best chance of success. State planning has failed and more of it is surely not the answer. Just faith? Maybe. But freedom is more deserving of my faith than the State. The State had my faith once; they blew it. It’s over.

josh April 16, 2009 at 8:31 am

I really resent how government has made the geography inaccessible and dangerous for one of the most efficient modes of transportation, the bicycle. However, I don’t see how it would be profitable to a private owner to accomodate users of bicycles when producing infrastructure. Does anyone have an answer to how bicycle accessible roads could come about?

RdC April 16, 2009 at 8:53 am

Hello everybody,

Given that I consider myself a Misesian (who prefers limited government, not anarchy) I hope the good people on mises.org will not dismiss my opinion as “statism”.

Anyway, I have very strong doubts about universal private roads.

To clear all the strawmen out of the way, of course private enterprise can build roads, of course they are not too expensive and of course there is no technical problem in chargin the tolls.

The problem that I see is that in the view of almost every landowner, the road is a monopoly – for most pieces of land there is only one roadside,
so whoever own a road (almost any road) has a monopoly over all people who own property on that road.

The road-owner would gain almost unlimited power over them, he would become a de-facto monarch who could literally besiege the landowners and control their lives.

Rothbard writes in one of his books that some protective clauses can be put into the contracts that guarantee access.
But he never specifies how that guarantee would look like.
Even if the contract would specify something like “the roadowner is only allowed to block access for no more than 2 weeks per year”, this would still give the roadowner lots of room to influence land prices and much more.
Also, how should such a contract prevent price hikes?

From the point of view of the roadowner, a income-based system would be optimal to maximize profits.
(Actually I think that every monopoly will try to do “selective pricing” as it is the optimal system for a monopoly)

So even if the roadowner is completely rational (which most people are not – the roadowner can destroy anybody on his road in case of a quarrel) we would merely replace the income-tax with an income-based toll.

Also, a well functioning political system (which the USA is certainly not) allows property owners influence in the management of public goods, while there is absolutely no influence over the road-owner.
The only way to “take my business elsewhere” is to abandon my home, which is not even remotely acceptable in my view.
(And by the way, even when I relocate I would have to use the road.)

RdC

Michael A. Clem April 16, 2009 at 11:35 am

“Faith in the free market”? According to the epistemologists, all knowledge is justified true belief (or my preferred variant, sufficiently justified belief). It’s hard to imagine that anyone has faith, and faith alone, to believe in the free market. Instead, we believe in the free market because we have various reasons that justify that belief, such as personal experience in markets and government, a priori logical reasoning based upon a proper understanding of what free markets and governments are, and plenty of political and economic writers who have written about the subject (lots of their works are available on this site, hint, hint!).

Brent April 16, 2009 at 12:46 pm

Private roads seem well in concept. The problem as I see it is in the ‘how’ part given where we are today.

Modern tolling systems keep an accurate record of where people travel. Great for private roads, but an intrusive state could demand access to the data.

How is competition going to be in the system? I probably need to read the book for this, but I don’t see how it can be done at this late date. I also wonder how a single company won’t end up with all the routes as well. Those with access to the cheap money could easily buy out the competition and create a monopoly.

The obvious conclusion I suppose is that private roads cannot be implemented without the elimination of the central bank, the intrusive state, and so on. That is, they are part of the package and if separated could result in a more miserable system than we have today.

G8R HED April 16, 2009 at 1:21 pm

RdC –
In response to your charge against “monopolist road owners” –
One possible solution, which Rothbard may or may not have had in mind, could resemble current easement agreements. I am thinking about a property ‘land-locked’ from any road access. Most such properties have an easement agreement across other properies to a nearby road.
Easement agreements may be as simple as guaranteeing all property owners along a “monopolist corridor” free access to the nearest competing road owner.

Sovy Kurosei April 16, 2009 at 2:09 pm

Magnus

Really? Who, exactly?

Prove your assertion, or withdraw it.

I’m done with getting hounded on this tangent.

@Enjoy Every Sandwich

Thank you.

billwald April 16, 2009 at 8:02 pm

At least in Washington State the cost of road repair and delays for road repair could be cut in half if studded tires were banned. A properly constructed freeway would last 50 years if the permissible load per tire was cut in half and the law enforced, including transi busses.

Delays due to accidents could be greatly reduced if the wrecks were simply pushed off the roadway after bodies were removed and let the insurance companies settle for the damages instead of the State Patrol blocking the freeways for hours. Post sign at the on ramps, “enter at your own risk.”

From personal experience driving around the US, drivers are much more polite on toll roads.

pbergn April 18, 2009 at 1:39 pm

Very, very elitist and cold…

The privatization of public infrastructure including the transportation system will inevitably lead to the establishment of two distinct races on the planet Earth:

The elite (the ones with the money, good taste for fancy clothes, vintage exotic vine and classical music), and the rest – the so-called working blue-collar class, which will solidify the societal divide by creating an overt Fascist state, as opposed to covert Oligarchy being observed in all the countries of the modern day…

The Libertarian School of Thought neglects the simple idea that everyone has certain inalienable property rights at birth: we have to be entitled to something by our mere existence, otherwise we are all slaves of the ruthless and cunning, don’t you see that?!

Mr. Tucker, you can’t take everything from ordinary people, and then label them as “useless eaters” if they cannot keep up with you exotic and refined demands towards life.

The tragedy of human condition is that we all have the same basic physical needs, but not all of us are equally talented, willing or capable. But by no means this means that you can take everything you can from us. The next logical step in you proposal is to tax the air we breathe and water we drink.

I have to give one thing to the author, though – at least he is being open and honest in his explicitly elitist views… So sad…

Asphalt Resurfacing September 3, 2010 at 8:16 am

Awts! tax the air we breathe and water we drink? If this will be happen, then what is the true meaning of life in relation to nature?

Sooo SAD!!!

Asphalt Resurfacing

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