You See Roads, I See Breadlines
So I wake up, open my IPad and find a new message on Facebook. It turns out to be the star wide receiver from my alma mater’s football team. Confused, I open the message. It reads as follows:
“So I’m starting to consider myself Libertarian but when people ask about what would fund paved roads and street lights what is the response?”
My first reaction is a smile because whenever people tell me they are considering what voluntarism would look like in practice, I blush. My next reaction is to begin to type an opus explaining the basis of human action, the underpinnings of the market economy, and the reprehensibility of the monopolization of force. But then I thought to myself, “as someone just starting out, would I have wanted to be berated with information, or would I rather have had a seed planted so that I could start the spiral of liberty for myself?” So I decided to go the Johnny Appleseed route.
My answer was as follows:
“haha thats awesome bud. So there’s a few ways to respond. The first is..what’s more important for life? food or roads? food or street lights? the answer is obviously food, no? if we trust the free market to provide us with food, why would we not apply this principle to things less pressing?”
Now, as someone who has read most of Walter Block’s “Privatization of Roads and Highways” and someone who has argued countless times on the internet, at conferences, and in college and law school classrooms for privatizing all of the infrastructure associated with government, I can speak the private road language pretty fluently. To go a little deeper and to provide you, the reader, with some tools to combat your social contract loving, limited government friends when they sing the never ending chorus to the “MUH ROADS” song, here’s a few points for you put forth.
– Roads are technically already provided by private companies.
Technically speaking, roads are built like this.
a) Government collects tax dollars on average 3 times more as would be necessary to build a road
b) Government decides where they are going to place the road usually using the power of eminent domain and uprooting people from their homes and/or businesses.
c) Government proffers bids from contractors
d) The contractors proffer bids to sub-contractors
e) The contractor accepts the bids of a few subcontractors
f) The contractor alerts the government they are ready to begin work
g) The government gives the green light.
h) The contractor, not being held to any sort of standard or incentive besides finishing the job, begins work and continues work slowly.
i) The government pays the contractor with usually 1/3 of the tax money allocated for the road and keeps 2/3 that go into the government’s pocket.
Now ask yourself this. Why couldn’t you just cut the government out of this scenario? Not only is it ineffective and inefficient, but it’s downright uneconomical. Would you pay someone to go get groceries for you, pay them 3 times more than the groceries cost, and then when they come back a week later and you’re really hungry you realize that the groceries are all Great Value Brand instead of higher quality brand name? The answer should be a resounding NO! You most likely would go get your own groceries, pay for them yourself, and get the groceries YOU want. The same principle can be applied to roads. Like the late Murray Rothbard would say, “You see traffic jams, I see breadlines.”
– Roads are stuck in the stone age technologically.
Close your eyes and imagine this. You pull out of your driveway onto the Dunkin Donuts avenue express, as you pass your thousandth mile driven that year, your phone gets an alert that you have qualified for a free medium coffee for using the road. You’re driving on a road made of polymer plastic that has no bumps, no potholes, and allows you to travel smoothly without ever having to worry about spilling your coffee, popping your tire, or mis-aligning your suspension. You pull onto the Samsung Highway and place your car in the conveyor belt lane for those who want to tune out and enjoy a meal or read a book while on the way to work. The speed limit is provided by digital screens every few miles that increase/decrease depending on how much traffic and what time of day it is. You get off the highway at the Wells Fargo roadway and the road in front of you flashes with holograms of the new Big Mac Burger that is $2.99 for a limited time at the new McDonalds down the street. You look to your left and there is a big screen projection of the highlights from last night’s NBA game being played on one of the ESPN traffic directors.
Now this is obviously just one of the myriad of scenarios from a simple minded person that could occur by privatizing the roads. Remember that whenever the government is put in charge of something, the incentives to provide quality service or cheap prices plummet. Don’t believe me? Go to any DMV or post office in this country and compare them with any FedEx or UPS store. Compare government delivery with Amazon or Google. Compare innovation with stagnation.
– Store owners, Big time companies, Home Owner’s Associations, apartment complexes, car dealerships, food chain restaurant’s, etc. ALL have an incentive to provide their constituents with a way to get to their stores, jobs, or residences, relieving the consumer of expenses.
This speaks to the innovation, technological prowess, and research into the efficiency of cars vs. motorcycles, vs. jet packs, vs. flying cars. What good is a business if its customers can’t get to it? Who is going to want to move to an apartment complex that doesn’t have a way for ingress and egress? Moreover, privatizing the roads would relieve the government of an excuse to take out taxes for roadways. Less money going towards taxes means more money being kept in the pockets of citizens and business owners. More money means more modernization.
To take a kind of diverse example, and as technology advances, what if research is done by McDonalds that paying for roads is becoming uneconomical? McDonalds may find it within their interest to begin funding research for jet packs, hover vehicles, or flying cars. McDonalds may become partners with the rest of the fast food industry and certain car companies to find solutions to these new reservations.
– The current roadways are killing fields.
According to the most updated statistics by ASIRT.com, an international organization devoted to making roadways safer for travel, 3,287 people a die a day on roads, making the number around 1.3 million people that die a year on top of a road. An additional 20-50 million are injured severely or disabled. Road traffic deaths account for 2.2% of all deaths globally. Compare that with around 500,000 deaths a year per cancer and we see that roads are statistically astronomically more dangerous than even cancer. Couple this with the fact that traffic crashes cost the US government alone $236 billion per year, and you really start to see that people may be in denial.
Where else would you see this type of denial? If people were going into a restaurant and suddenly dying at rates of thousands per week, people would be forced to take note. People would question the owners and operators of the restaurant. New policies would be put in place to combat the death rates. However, as with roads, NOBODY questions the owners or their methods. For example, more people die going under 40 mph than die going over 80 mph. However, no experimentation is ever done to see if higher rates of speed in some areas may actually be safer. No experimentation is done to see if increasing lanes by 4 inches may decrease deaths by thousands. Analogously, as is happening now, people would blame the customers of the restaurant for their deaths. No blame is put on the proprietors of the roads, or even the industry standards.
So the next time you are driving in a dirty, pothole filled traffic jam because the divider in the middle of the highway has been under chronic construction since 2011, think about what a private roadway might look like and dare to dream about the better days ahead.