But Who Will Build the Roads?
The following is by guest Jaimine Blesav Bezboznik.
Who will build the roads?
It’s the question that has tortured me with a sweet melody repeating itself over and over and over again for as long as statists have roamed. It’s the simple question, “Who will build the roads?” It’s not really the hardest question to answer, but no matter what answer is provided, sheeples will unnecessarily disdain me, as if I am the ONLY one advocating “absurd” things here. LOL. Never mind.
Well, the next time you get the question, you don’t need to start twitching compulsively or laughing hysterically. Just link them to this coherent article. It will go over all the major points about roads.
You should know that…
Government doesn’t build the roads. Governments hire contracting companies to build the roads for them. Asking, “who will build the roads, without government?”, is like asking, “who will pick the cotton, when we free the slaves?”. Don’t just take my word for it. People “actually” believed that slavery couldn’t be abolished in America. Without the slaves picking the cotton, they thought there would be no way for cotton to get picked. If cotton didn’t get picked, clothing wouldn’t get made, businesses would go under, children would freeze to death, slaves couldn’t take care of themselves (racism at its worst,) and many other ridiculous things. In India we all know about Dashrath Manjhi.
Government is non-voluntary. I can’t choose not to be a citizen of India. I need permission to leave. I was born here. I did not agree to that or any social contract, as such. I’m stuck here, following the rules until government approves of my departure (I even have to pay to eliminate my citizenship. That’s not voluntary). The rules I have to follow include non-voluntary taxes, social rules (smoking, etc), and business regulations. If I choose not to follow their rules, they lock me in a cage. If an individual were to do this to me; it would be extortion, or theft, or kidnapping or any of a million crimes. A government does all these things, without labeling them crimes. You know, it’s a robbery if I extort your money and it’s taxation when government does it. And, It is a murder if I kill you and it’s a war when government does it. War is always legal.
There are plenty of incentives in the free market for people to build roads.
Free-market roads is the theory that a society should have entirely private and/or community owned roads. Free-market roads and infrastructure are generally advocated by anarcho-capitalist works, including Murray Rothbard’s For a New Liberty, Morris and Linda Tannehill’s The Market for Liberty, David D. Friedman’s The Machinery of Freedom, and David T. Beito’s The Voluntary City.
Private roads can have no free riders, reducing congestion
The free rider problem has been cited by some proponents as a reason for privatizing roads: since traffic congestion is the result of excess demand for transportation infrastructure, it may be treated as any other economic shortage – in this case, a shortage of roads, lanes, exits, or other infrastructure. Seeing the pricing mechanism of a free market as a more efficient means of meeting demand than government planning (see Economic calculation problem), Peter Samuel, in his book Highway Aggravation: The Case For Privatizing The Highways, compares American traffic jams and Soviet grocery store lines:
In Russia communism’s failure was epitomized by constant shortages in stores. Empty shelves in supermarkets and department stores and customers in line, wasting hours each week, became the face of the system’s failure, as well as a source of huge personal frustration, even rage. Communism failed because prices were not flexible to match supply and demand; because stores were bureaucracies, not businesses; and because revenues went into a central treasury and did not fuel increased capacity and improved service. We in supposedly capitalistic America suffer communism–an unpriced service provided by an unresponsive monopolistic bureaucracy–on most of our highways. Our manifestation of shortage, our equivalent of Russian lines at stores, is daily highway backups. There is no price on rush-hour travel to clear the market. There is no revenue stream directly from road users to road managers to provide incentives either to manage existing capacity to maximum consumer advantage or to adjust capacity to demand.
Ronald F. Kirby, transportation director for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, opined that private companies have more of an incentive to invest in infrastructure early, before a public outcry prompts construction. He noted, “Too often in the public sector, the easiest thing to do is let things sit unresolved. The private sector is motivated by self-interest to resolve things quickly“.
As with all problems on a free market, the greatest (though not the only) engine of problem solving is self-interest. The farmer may have lofty goals of feeding others, but he’s mostly there to earn a living for himself, and whether or not he wants to help his fellow man, on a competitive free market he must provide a good product at a good price or nobody will buy it from him. His ability to satisfy his own self-interest is therefore primarily guided by the satisfaction of the self-interest of others. Markets are, therefore, inherently altruistic. Read: Human Action
Competition will motivate better service than is provided by regional monopolies
Proponents often cite competition among road providers as an advantage, as road companies would have an incentive to develop innovative ways of lowering prices and improving service to gain a competitive edge. For this reason, arterials (major highways) are often viewed as prime candidates for privatization, since there are typically many possible routes one could take to get to a particular destination, which could allow for competition among multiple road companies. However, local neighborhood streets could also be provided by private road associations, in much the same way that common stairs, hallways, etc. are provided in a cooperative living arrangement, condominium, or gated community. The association might allow members to drive these streets for free and charge fees to motorists using them as cut-throughs to get to other places. Contractors would compete to provide good road service in much the same way as elevator companies compete for the business of office buildings, despite the fact that a typical building may only contract with one elevator provider at a time.
Privatization will encourage infrastructure construction
A company that owns a private road will typically want to at least recoup its earlier investment to construct the road. Furthermore, when construction is complete, the company wants to keep investing in the road to keep up its initial value, because roads deteriorate over time. Road maintenance needs to be quick and of high quality, to keep the road from becoming idle again in the future resulting in a capital loss for the company; road traffic needs to be maximized, because that will result in the most revenues to the company. A government does not seek to maximize traffic or reduce road maintenance, because it has no incentive to do so, claim supporters of private roads. These supporters also claim that road safety is increased by companies that own private roads. Those companies do not want to see people getting injured on their roads, as it will tarnish a company’s reputation. The companies will seek active removal of unfit, drunk and other reckless drivers, if allowed to discriminate so by the state, and will want to see increased mechanical standards of vehicles, because a stalled vehicle means an idle road. The company itself needs to pay for its removal, or passes this cost on to the owner of the stalled vehicle, inciting the owner to upkeep the quality of one’s property.
Free market roads facilitate internalization of external costs
A private company can more easily be held accountable for negative effects of the highway than that if it is publicly owned. For example, residents living next to urban highways will benefit from noise barriers. However, campaigning for the city council to erect the walls is often ineffective and the process can take years, since the council needs to divert funding from other more pressing projects. A private highway will try to avoid court action and feel more obliged to cater for residents. The cost of erecting the walls will be passed on directly to the drivers (who are causing the noise), rather than the general public.
Free market roads will have less crime
Bruce L. Benson argues that when roads are privately owned, local residents will be better able to prevent crime by exercising their right to ask miscreants to leave. He observes that avenues in the private places of St. Louis have been shown to have lower crime rates than adjacent public streets. The Market for Liberty further argues that private roads will be better policed as the owners focus on serious crime rather than on victim-less offenses:
A private corporation which owned streets would make a point of keeping its streets free of drunks, hoodlums, and any other such annoying menaces, hiring private guards to do so if necessary. It might even advertise, “Thru-Way Corporation’s streets are guaranteed safe at any hour of the day or night. Women may walk alone with perfect confidence on our thoroughfares.” A criminal, forbidden to use any city street because all the street corporations knew of his bad reputation, would have a hard time even getting anywhere to commit a crime.
On the other hand, the private street companies would have no interest in regulating the dress, “morals,” habits, or lifestyle of the people who used their streets. For instance, they wouldn’t want to drive away customers by arresting or badgering hippies, girls in see-thru blouses or topless bathing suits or any other non-aggressive deviation from the value standards of the majority. All they would ask is that each customer pay his dime-a-day and refrain from initiating force, obstructing traffic, and driving away other customers. Other than this, his life-style and moral code would be of no interest to them; they would treat him courteously and solicit his business.
Free market roads will encourage small business
Mutualist Kevin Carson argues that transportation is a natural diseconomy of scale. The cost of transportation increases disproportionately with the size of a firm; in a free market, there would be strict upper limits to the size and power of corporations, and small businesses would have natural advantages. Government subsidies to transportation, however, make large, centralized corporations artificially profitable, contributing to corporate dominance of the economy. Carson points out that in many cases, centralized industry did not develop until after the advent of taxpayer-funded roads and other transportation projects.
If roads were built on a free-market, with a diversity of competing builders and owners who had self-interest at their heart, we would have much safer roads, and with far fewer potholes. Why? Simple: You have two roads you can take. The first is a road built and owned by company A, who has a time-tested reputation for good quality roads, and safe rules and regulations for their use. Not rules based on politics, but based on science and accident prevention. Their speed limits, use of signs, and other safety rules and devices are determined largely by an analysis of accidents, use of statistics, and a little motivation from insurance companies, who are more than willing to lower their premiums for a more safety-minded road owner. Road B is built by a firm with a horrid reputation, run by incompetent and corrupt businessmen who resemble politicians more than anyone else. It is statistically more dangerous in use, its poor maintenance and potholes cause more damage to your car, and the rules that govern its use (set by the property owner) are frankly insane. Which road will you choose? Which company will prosper, and which will soon go out of business? On a free market, the answer is obvious. Under a government system, Road B and its company continue to prosper, for the simple reason that they don’t ask you which road you want to patronize. They just point a gun at your face and take your money. On a competitive free market, road owners and managers would constantly look for ways to improve the safety and efficiency of their roads, and successful experiments would be emulated by their competitors, rapidly spreading the implementation of innovative ideas. One way funds could be raised is subscriptions.
Road owners could charge a one-time fee for use of their road (such as by using tolls, or cameras photographing license plates and sending bills to their owners), or they could use the far more efficient subscription method. Using it, a driver can pay a yearly, monthly, or other fee and have access granted to the road for a period of time. To make things even easier, there are likely to be road networks, in which road owners enter their roads into a single network, and they are then paid a share of the subscription fees based on use of their roads. Subscribers could attach small electronic devices to their cars, which would be scanned at regular intervals to allow passage. Although advancements in technology are opening up new ways with which to make roads that much more efficient, a tried and tested low-tech method used for hundreds of years has been turnpike roads and trusts. I’m curious whether “Which road network are you subscribed to?” will become a standard question on insurance forms for car drivers – so you will have an additional monetary self-interest in choosing safer roads.
Now for a mental experiment, try to extrapolate the kind of reasoning above to all the other goods and services you may think cannot be provided without a government.
Jaimine is an autodidactic professor based in Mumbai and “voluntarily” proselyting Keynesian students into rothbardian thinking. Follow him at: https://twitter.com/meritocratic